SAN JOSE, Calif. — A year ago, Magnus Eriksson arrived in San Jose as the scoring champion of the Swedish first division, freshly inked to a Designated Player contract with expectations the mohawked midfielder would bring his attacking acumen to Major League Soccer and elevate the Earthquakes to playoff contenders.
Unfortunately, he did not have the overall impact the team needed to progress from its promising 2017 campaign, and the Quakes finished 2018 with the worst record in franchise history. Fingers were pointed in all directions, but Eriksson received a large share of the blame.
Following an offseason in which his name came up repeatedly in transfer rumors — many of those anticipating a return to his native Sweden — Eriksson is still in San Jose, ready to move on from the disappointment of last year. He shaved off the punk rock haircut and no longer carries the DP label, and now Eriksson, firmly a part of the Quakes, is committed to kicking off his sophomore MLS season with a fresh start.
“It was a hard year, especially with the results that we had, and we struggled almost from the fourth week of the season,” Eriksson told Pro Soccer USA. “It was tough, especially mentally, but I think we have the quality in the team, so this year we come in with a lot of positiveness and are looking forward to the start of the season.”
Every preseason begins with a healthy dose of optimism, but for Eriksson, who saw his fellow countryman Mikael Stahre fired as the Earthquakes head coach last fall, the depths of last season’s despair have dissipated, especially with an almost entirely new coaching staff led by Matias Almeyda. His mood, and that of the players around him, has completely changed with Almeyda in charge.
“It’s good,” Eriksson explained. “We have trained really, really hard, especially during the training camp in Cancun, and there’s a new philosophy, and we believe in it. It’s a lot of changes from last year in the way we play, but everything is positive, and the game against LA was an important step forward, which was good.”
Within days of the start of preseason camp, Almeyda whisked the team away to Mexico for an intensive 16-day period punctuated by two-a-day training sessions and plenty of team bonding activities. Last year’s squad was beset by locker room cliques and personal agendas, which sabotaged many an effort on game days. Almedya has moved quickly to quell those issues since taking over, encouraging players to trust one another on and off the field, and Eriksson can already see the difference.
“I would say everything, both mentally and tactically, has changed” he shared, “but I would also say that stays between us in the team. We will try to play a lot better than we did last year.”
The Earthquakes made very few changes to the roster over the offseason, but they did add four players who, in the team’s last two preseason games, have made Almeyda’s starting XI. Eriksson was also in the first team against Reno and Los Angeles FC, scoring a goal against the Quakes’ conference foe, and he knows he and the other returning players from 2018 have to earn their time on the field.
“Yeah, we have some new guys on the team, but most of the guys are still here,” he said. “Together, we have a great group of people and players, and with Matias and his coaching staff, with their philosophy and soccer, we have to adapt to that, and we are working really hard every day to do that.”
Almeyda’s vision for how the Earthquakes will play is based on a more active level on both sides of the ball. It will involve quick build-up in possession, especially in the attacking third, as well as a man-marking defensive style that will emphasize regaining the ball when it is turned over. Eriksson’s strengths are definitely on the offensive side of the field, so he will have to elevate his own contribution to this effort if he is going to continue being a starter.
Eriksson scored six goals in his first MLS season, adding in three assists, which was well below his output the year before in Sweden. As for what he expects of himself in 2019, especially as it relates to his offensive output, Eriksson did not want to set forth anything numerical, but that is nothing new for the midfielder. All his career, he’s looked more at winning as the mark of success. Whether that comes directly through goals and assists is only part of the picture.
“I never set any personal goals before seasons,” Eriksson said. “I just want to play good and be successful with the team. That’s the only thing I care about.”