Swedish midfielder Gustav Svensson joined the Seattle Sounders after they had already left for training camp in Tucson, so he didn’t get much of a chance to train in Seattle and see the city before jumping into the team’s preseason. But that didn’t matter to Svensson, who had been wanting to play in Major League Soccer for a long time. “I’ve always wanted to play in MLS, both because I like the league and I like how it is, but I like the country as well. I’m 30 years old, but I want to learn both as a soccer player and as a person. This is a very good opportunity.”
One aspect that helped convince Svensson to come to Seattle was the recommendation of Erik Friberg, whose second stint with the Sounders ended with last season’s MLS Cup-winning run. Svensson said that he had watched the Sounders the most, because he wanted to watch and support his friend. “Especially because my friend Erik played here before and he won the league last year so of course I followed him and the team.”
It turns out that the Friberg connection was even more important in getting Svensson to Seattle, because the two players share the same agent, who also represents former Sounder Adam Johansson. Sounders Sporting Director Chris Henderson said that “he [the agent] said 'I have a good opportunity. A player in China, he's leaving there. They're bringing in new foreigners. This would be a really good opportunity for you guys.’” Henderson and the rest of the Sounders front office were familiar with Svensson after seeing him play with Johansson at IFK Göteborg. Between the agent’s offer and Henderson’s prior knowledge of the player, the team was able to get a deal done to bring Svensson to Seattle.
But despite the relative whirlwind of his arrival, Svensson said that he’s very pleased with what he’s seen of Seattle so far, both from the club and the city. “I like it, I like the squad and I like the staff. I like the quality of training, you can see that there are a lot of quality players and hungry, young players as well, so it’s a good mix.” He noted that the physicality of the league attracted him to MLS, and his experience in the team’s two friendlies has backed that up so far. Svensson said that though the physical nature and quick tempo were very much to his liking, he’s hoping to help the team get better at holding onto possession—a style that he prefers.
Fans will be pleased to know that Svensson is used to playing on turf from his many years in Sweden, and even though he’s not a huge fan, he’s appreciative of how turf technology has advanced. “It’s getting better. When it came out in the beginning I didn’t like it at all, but it’s getting better. I have to say that I like it, but I don’t love it.”
Since the Sounders were relatively low on central midfield depth going into preseason, it’s no surprise that Svensson believes his best position to be as a defensive midfielder. But what likely pushed him to the top of the front office’s list was his experience and versatility: “my strength is that I always do 100%, I always give my best and try to make my teammates better by trying to help them as much as I can.” Not only has Svensson had a long career at a variety of clubs, he’s also had extensive experience at other positions, especially right back and center back. Head coach Brian Schmetzer even pointed out that Svensson was often used in the heart of defense while playing for Guangzhou in China last season.
It’s hard for Svensson to talk too much about Seattle itself, as he’s only had a little time in the city so far. But he came here on the recommendations of friends and fellow players like Friberg and Johansson: “I had been to the US a couple times, but not in Seattle. I had a couple friends who have played here or had been here for vacations and stuff, and they talked very well about Seattle.” Having come here from China, Svensson said that both the soccer and the culture is very different in Seattle—but it reminds him much more of Sweden. “I had to adapt more going to China, so this is more like going home.”