Across the state of Minnesota, there’s a notable Northern European flavor to the air. From winter festivals in sub-zero, snow-covered conditions, to locals wearing bulky, uniquely patterned sweaters, to a professional sports team named after a certain sect of Norse warriors, it’s impossible to maneuver through the North Star State and not see Scandinavian influence.
If you look at Minnesota United FC’s roster, you can see a similar imprint.
All told, the Loons brought in two Swedes, a Dane, a Finn, and three players with experience in the Scandinavian leagues before the club's debut 2017 season.
Swedish goalkeeper John Alvbåge (pictured above) is on a six-month loan, with option to purchase, and he figures to be the starter from MLS Opening Weekend. Danish international attacker Bashkim Kadrii is on a one-year loan from FC Copenhagen; United have purchase options on both players. Former Columbus Crew SC midfielder Mohammed Saeid is from Sweden, while fellow center midfielder Rasmus Schuller was acquired with Targeted Allocation Money. Their latest acquisition, Swiss fullback Jerome Thiesson, is a veteran of the Swedish leagues.
While Saeid came through the 2016 MLS Expansion Draft, the origin of the rest of these acquisitions came from sporting director Manny Lagos’ first MLS-focused scouting trip. Lagos traveled to Scandinavia in late September and early October, focusing on Norway and Sweden. At the time, Lagos told FiftyFive.One that this was both practical off the field (since most Norwegian/Swedish contracts expire in December) and on it, since there are similarities between Minnesota and Northern Europe in terms of weather and culture.
“The value has to be first and foremost on the field,” said Lagos, the day before his flight left for Europe. “We don’t want to pretend and start this off like we’re going to be New York or L.A."
One player he named as a target at the time was US international Josh Gatt, who spent the previous five years with Norwegian club Molde before signing with the Loons. While injuries had sidelined Gatt for much of the past two seasons, Gatt saw Minnesota as a perfect chance to rebuild his own personal stock.
“In Norway, I spent a decent amount of the last couple years injured,” Gatt told MLSsoccer.com. “I had a lot of positives, I won trophies, but at this time, I was looking for a change. I felt very complacent in Norway. It felt safe. I wanted to try a new challenge, and this was a perfect opportunity to come back and not only revamp myself, but also continue playing in a very good, up-and-coming league.”
Meanwhile, the club also signed center back Vadim Demidov. With experience with Real Sociedad, Eintracht Frankfurt, and most recently captaining SK Brann to a successful promotion, he saw Minnesota as the right club to try and land in MLS.
“I had a lot of offers, but this felt more right for me,” Demidov told MLSsoccer.com, specifically naming interest in La Liga and the English Football League. “After the talk I had with [head coach] Adrian Heath and Lagos, I felt right at home. Their ambitions were the same as mine.”
While readjusting to the travel and lifestyle in the United States can be an issue for league newcomers, Heath and Lagos are banking on the familiarity of Minnesota to ease the transition for Demidov and his fellow Scandinavians.
And there will be no time to waste. Minnesota United kicks off their inaugural campaign at Portland on Friday (9:30pm ET; FS1).