COMMERCE CITY, Colo.—Axel Sjöberg has logged the most minutes of any Colorado Rapids defender this season, one in which they've been historically good at home, so it’s only fitting that he earned recognition as one of three finalists for MLS Defender of the Year.
“I think it’s great,” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni told MLSsoccer.com. “It speaks volumes to the type of work that he’s done in the last year to put himself in this position.”
The recognition has been long overdue. Earlier this season, Sjöberg felt that he and his teammates were largely snubbed from being recognized in this season’s AT&T MLS All-Star Game. But he’s done his best to remain level headed as the season wore on.
“It does feel good to get recognition,” Axel Sjöberg told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “I was close to making the All-Star team and some people wanted me there, but in this profession you can’t listen too much to what other people say. You’ve just got to play your game.”
For both Sjöberg and Mastroeni, the Defender of the Year honor – which went to FC Dallas center back Matt Hedges – is as much a recognition of what the Rapids have been able to accomplish as a team; one which has allowed the fewest goals in MLS this season.
“We know we’ve had the best team defense this year,” Sjöberg said. “Defense isn’t played by one person. You play defense with all 11, especially on our team. We’ve worked really hard for each other and you can’t just put it on one guy.”
“It speaks to the type of commitment the guys have in front of him to make his job more predictable,” Mastroeni said. “Like everything else, it’s always a team endeavor.”
Yet Sjöberg has been an important individual contributor to Colorado’s accomplishments garnering the big Swede attention from abroad.
Interview requests from his home country have increased, and the rumor mill has connected him to a transfer interest from his boyhood club Djurgårdens IF as well as Östersunds FK, both in Tier 1 of the Swedish football pyramid.
Sjöberg shot down those rumors this week, saying there was “nothing official” to them.
His immediate focus lies instead on the Rapids’ upcoming Western Conference Championship series, and containing a Seattle Sounders offense which has been injected with the playmaking ability of Nicolás Lodeiro, an integral piece to the Sounders resurgence who wasn’t available in the two teams’ previous meetings this season – both of which took place ahead of the midseason signing.
“I think they’re a very dangerous team to play right now, because they’ve been in a very good run of form,” Sjöberg said. “I think they are very confident. But we played them earlier in the year and we did well both times. The recipe is going to be very similar for us. What we did in those games we’re going to have to replicate that, just take a look at how Lodeiro has changed them a bit, and make sure we thwart that.”