Matt Pyzdrowski in Sweden
Courtesy of Linda Carlsson/Helsingborg IF

American Exports: Helsingborgs IF goalkeeper Matt Pyzdrowski playing out Cinderella story in Sweden

AMSTERDAM – If his career path is any indication, Helsingborgs IF netminder Matt Pyzdrowski is a very difficult person to shock. 

On the other hand, after going from an odd man out in Portland's 2011 rise to MLS to the sudden starter for a name-brand Allsvenskan club, the 27-year-old Illinois native could tell you all about following your bliss. 

Due to hard work and some open doors, Pyzdrowski has become the guy who, this past weekend, backstopped Helsingborg into the Svenska Cupen quarterfinals less than two months after arriving from three strong seasons with Ängelholm in the Swedish second flight. The last door opened when incumbent Reds starter Pär Hansson went down mere minutes before Helsingborg's cup group-phase opener at Vaesteraas on Feb. 21. 

"He fractured his finger in pre-game warm-ups, and I got my opportunity – with no notice, so it can be a difficult situation," Pyzdrowski told by phone from Sweden. "The way the circumstances played out, that was the right game if it was to happen." 

The newcomer posted a debut shutout as the Reds schooled their third-division hosts 4-0, and he continued in goal as Helsingborg earned two draws to win their group on goal differential. Hansson is out for several weeks more, just long enough to make it anybody's guess who will walk the line when Helsingborg open the new league season with a trip to Kalmar.

"That's why when you're a goalkeeper, you always have to prepare," said Pyzdrowski. "Stay on your toes and be ready. You never want injury to be the reason, but at the same time, you have to show yourself." 

So far, the Helsingborg coaching staff is all raves, talking with the 'keeper about some still-untapped potential and the future it can bring. The reason Pyzdrowski sounds rather zen is from the rocky road he traveled to get here. 

Back in 2010, he was in line to be the starter when the Portland Timbers ascended to Major League Soccer, which at the time was the depth of his career dreams.

"I actually had a meeting with the staff in the offseason where they told me I was in the MLS plans," recalled Pyzdrowski. "Then they ended up calling me on draft day and told me they had unfortunately moved onto someone else." 

That someone else was Adin Brown (pictured at right), who would turn out to be a great friend and eventually a guide when Pyzdrowski decided to cross the ocean with his goalie gloves.

"He gave me great advice about what to expect as an American abroad and obviously with regards to Scandinavia," he said. "What the people are like, what the leagues are like – he's been a great help." 

Still, Pyzdrowski was frustrated about how things ended in Portland. It was every bit a dream deferred.

“It was very difficult," he said. "That was my goal. That was part of the reason I went with Portland in the first place. It happens, that's the business. I just had to get out my contacts, and luckily my old coach at Marquette [Khaled El-Ahmad] ended up helping to bring me over to Sweden."

Pyzdrowski channeled the frustration into what he termed a 'professional year-long trial.' He proved himself by leading Ängelholm, who were one spot above the relegation zone the previous year, to their best season ever with a third-place Superettan finish. 

That 2011 season, complete with a heartbreaking last-minute loss by own goal in the promotion playoff, turned into three seasons with Ängelholm. In all, Pyzdrowski posted 40 wins and 27 shutouts in 113 overall games with the Superettan club. He also wore the captain's armband 15 times and eventually drew transfer interest from the top flights in both Sweden and higher-rated Denmark, as well as from back home.

"I was in touch with a few MLS clubs, but the was a lot of uncertainty with the [Collective Bargaining Agreement]," Pyzdrowski said. "I married a Swedish woman over here, so I wasn't going to just pick up and move back at that time. As soon as I heard about Helsingborg, it was a no-brainer." 

Now he is a netminder on a title contender, personally chasing a Europa League berth under star manager Henrik Larsson, a guy who knows a thing or two about moving up in the soccer world from Sweden. What's more, it probably will not take much longer for the US national team to notice if Pyzdrowski continues excelling in Europe.

"I don't even know if [USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann] knows who I am, but I'm here to make some noise and hope he hears of me," he said. "Somebody like Nick Rimando gives me hope. If you have the talent and you can perform, essentially the door is never closed."

Finally content with not knowing what plot twist will come next, Pyzdrowski is fully living in the now. Right now, his goal is to firmly wrap those gloves around everything that comes his way at Helsingborg.

"I look at this like another one of those investment-type opportunities," said Pyzdrowski. "Go out and prove myself. I think there's a little more in me that they are just starting to discover now. I hope I can build a nice career here, moving forward. These are the dreams I've had since I started playing this game."