When San Jose Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli reflected back on the 2017 season, he must have quickly realized that the team needed more goal scoring threats across its attacking lines. The return of forward Danny Hoesen, whose promising first season in MLS led the Quakes to bring him back on a permanent transfer from Dutch club FC Gronigen, was one piece of the puzzle. The move to acquire midfielder Magnus Eriksson, the top scorer last season in the Swedish top-flight Allsvenskan, as a Designated Player signing was the other.
Eriksson, 27 years old, scored 14 goals for his Swedish club Djurgårdens last season, adding 6 assists. He is naturally left-footed, but he plays primarily on the right side of midfield and has a penchant for cutting into the middle third of the field in possession. Early in his career, he featured more in a forward role, especially in the years he spent as a teenager in AIK’s youth academy. It was there, and later at Väsby United, that Earthquakes head coach and fellow Swede Mikael Stahre first worked with Eriksson.
“First off, I knew him from the past,” said Stahre to Center Line Soccer. “I managed him when he was about 15 years old in the youth academy and brought up through the U-19 team and the satellite club, so I know him really well.”
Stahre was familiar with Eriksson’s exploits as an expert youth hockey player as well, a skill set that is reflected in his toughness and bravery on the field, and convinced him that his future as a professional athlete was in soccer. Eriksson, who sports a mohawk haircut that is visually reminiscent of a punk lifestyle mentality, will give his all for the team, according to Stahre, and he was pleased that Fioranelli had identified the Swedish scoring champion as a perfect fit for the club and the style of play in MLS, even before he himself joined the recruitment efforts as head coach. Stahre sees the double-digit goalscorer as a good on-field complement to the Quakes current double-digit goalscorer Chris Wondolowski, and he hopes the pair find the right combination to keep opposing defenses on their heels in 2018.
“We expect he will be a creator, for sure, but he was also the top scorer in the Swedish league last season playing from the side, which is very good,” said Stahre. “Hopefully, he can be great from the side for us, but also provide some assists and goals, of course. He is really good in defense as well and works very hard.”
Eriksson was a late arrival to the Quakes preseason camp, having arrived a couple days after most of his teammates had already begun training, but he was eager to take to the field and show everyone what he has to offer. He looked to be in good fitness, having worked up a good sweat during the lengthy morning session, and was glad to start the newest chapter in his career.
“I am really happy to be a part of this,” said Eriksson to Center Line Soccer. “I am finally having my first practice today. It was a tough one, but it was fun, so it’s nice to be here and it’s nice to get started.”
The Earthquakes season opener is only five weeks away, so Eriksson and the rest of the team will need to quickly find their form. Back in Sweden, the off-season was much longer, so he recognized the need to adjust his approach to the preseason so that he would be in top shape to start the campaign.
“It is kind of short, but it is also fun knowing that the games are coming up close to us,” said Eriksson. “But we still have to get ready in this training camp, starting this week, so we will be prepared for the beginning of the season.”
With a full roster creating a log-jam at midfield for the Earthquakes, coach Stahre will have plenty of options to fill his first starting eleven when San Jose hosts Minnesota United on March 3. Eriksson knew from the start of conversations with Fioranelli that he would face a competitive situation in making the move to MLS, but he was swayed by the opportunity to take his game to another level, at a club that promised him the chance to make his mark.
“The introduction was great,” said Eriksson. “The first contact I had was with Jesse, and it was great from the beginning. Then I came here and met all the nice people around the club, so the impression was great from the start, and I am really happy to be a part of this. There are nice people in the club. It feels like a big family.”
Eriksson comes to San Jose after developing a bit of a reputation in Sweden for being a player you love to play with but hate to play against. Even the fans of opposing teams had little appreciation to share when it came to their reception of Eriksson, but Stahre knows that the midfielder has the mentality to be an ideal teammate with his fellow Earthquakes.
“He’s a really nice guy, a real humble guy,” said Stahre. “When I coached against him when he was at Malmö and again at Djurgårdens, he played first like a striker and then more as a number 10 and the side. He is really good at protecting the ball, he’s really strong, he’s not super fast, but he’s good at cutting in, crossing the ball, and shooting all combined. It’s really hard to defend against that combination.”
Eriksson agreed with his coach’s assessment, but he hopes that he can still catch opponents by surprise as a newcomer to MLS. Full of confidence and champing at the bit for the season to begin, the outside midfielder kept it simple in describing his game and what fans at Avaya Stadium and around the league can expect to see in 2018.
“I am pretty comfortable with the ball. I look at myself as someone who provides assists more than as a goal scorer. Last year was more goals than assists, yes, but I will make points when I have the ball at my feet,” said Eriksson, before letting out a small laugh and proclaiming, “Yeah, you will see!”