LAUDERHILL, Fla. – Axel Sjoberg will be hard to miss at Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft.
Standing at 6-foot-7, the Swedish center back will become one of the tallest players in league history when he’s drafted. But the Marquette senior stands out for more than just his height, cutting a unique path to MLS that began in his native Stockholm, continued in Milwaukee for college and will soon find him in Philadelphia for the draft.
Sjoberg began his career in the academy of one of Sweden’s biggest clubs, Djurgardens IF. He played there through his formative years, joining the team at age seven and staying until he was 18. He’d hoped for an offer to turn pro from the Stockholm outfit, but, with no deal forthcoming, was forced to look elsewhere to continue his soccer career.
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He latched on with a team in the Swedish fourth division in 2010 and found immediate success, earning player of the year honors in his lone season with his tiny club. But Sjoberg wanted more. Not content to sacrifice his education to play in such a minor league, he turned his attention to the US, eventually landing with Marquette after connecting with the program through an agency that helps place European players at US schools.
“In Sweden, just like the rest of Europe, you either play soccer full-time or you go to school,” he told MLSsoccer.com at the 2015 adidas MLS Player Combine on Tuesday. “I wasn’t willing to give up anything. I wanted to do both and college was kind of the perfect combination. I got a new soccer experience and could do the studies that I wanted to complete as well, so it was perfect.”
He thrived at Marquette, earning All-Big East first-team honors in 2013 and 2014 and starting all 63 games he played for the Golden Eagles.
Things went even better for Sjoberg off the field, with the finance major shining in the classroom, earning Big East Conference, regional or national academic honors in each of his four years in Wisconsin. He even may have found a post-soccer career for himself, being awarded Marquette’s Finance Department Outstanding Senior Award earlier this year and excelling in a class that allowed students to trade stocks and bonds with university money.
“For school I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, it was kind of an adventure at the beginning,” he said. “It just happened that Marquette had an investment program where they would let students invest in stocks and bonds with school money. I got into that program and I really loved it. It was really hands on learning.
“I think I’ll at least manage my own money first of all, but then maybe [trade] at the same time as soccer if possible, but after soccer for sure.”
Sjoberg showed well at the 2015 adidas MLS Player Combine this past weekend, helping anchor a Nitro Charge defense that didn’t allow a single goal in three games in South Florida. He also had some valuable meetings with several MLS clubs, getting too know multiple coaching staffs around the league and getting a good feel for what they think he needs to improve on.
“It was nice to kind of meet the coaching staffs for the different teams,” he said. “I think that’s the most important thing I got out of it. Obviously I want to go to a team that’s good, but I also want a coaching staff that can help me take the next step as well so I can develop as a player.
“As far as expectations go, I’m just enjoying the whole experience, seeing where the chips fall. No real expectations but I kind of know the teams I would like to go to.”