The San Jose Earthquakes off-season makeover was focused on youth. General Manager Jesse Fioranelli, looking to build off the club’s rise to playoff qualifier in 2017, charted a path leading up to this season that focused on keeping the core of the roster and adding in young specialists.
One of the those signings was defender Joel Qwiberg (pronounced jo-ELL QWEE-burg), who, at 25 years old, is just hitting his prime following a professional career that has seen him play at all levels of soccer in Sweden. Last year, he helped IF Brommapojkarna, where he has played since 2016, earn promotion to the top-tier Allsvenskan league. The season before that, he was instrumental in the same side’s elevation from the third division to the second-tier Superettan — two seasons, two successive promotions.
“Joel is a technically gifted and hard-working player that allows us to strengthen our defense in more than one formation,” said Fioranelli at the time of the signing.
Qwiberg plays primarily as a left back, but he can also push forward into a winger’s role. His experience as an overlapping fullback could provide the Quakes with a left-sided attacking threat from the defensive line, something the team did not have for much of last season.
“I’m very excited to be here,” said Qwiberg following the start of preseason. “I’m a player that works hard. I’m fast and have a good technique one against one. I will work really, really hard for the team.”
Earthquakes head coach Mikael Stahre, who was hired at around the same time as Qwiberg was signed, knows the player very well, though neither had any communication prior to both joining San Jose. The rookie coach is pleased to have a player with such pedigree, one that has tasted success in recent seasons, but he wasn’t ready to name the fellow Swede as the team’s starting left back for 2018.
“For Joel, this is a good opportunity for him to take the next step,” said Stahre. “He comes from a famous team in Sweden that is known for developing good players, so for me he has to be strong and perform at a little higher level every day. Obviously, he is good and provides us a good option here.”
The coaching change in San Jose from Chris Leitch to Stahre could have created a level of uncertainty for a player looking to make an immediate impact with a new team. Instead, Qwiberg was sold on the move to MLS by the vision of Fioranelli, whose conversations with the recruit quelled any uncertainty he might have felt about playing outside of Europe for the first time in his career.
“No, not at all,” said Qwiberg. “I signed even before I knew he was going to be a coach here. I really liked what Jesse told me, even before Mikael was here, and I liked the whole plan. I think it will be a great league for me. It will fit me very well.
“I was talking to a lot of clubs in Europe, in Scandinavia,” he added, “but I think I’ve got the whole package over here that I am more interested in than maybe the biggest money in Europe or biggest clubs. I think this will fit me perfectly. It’s a club and a league that are growing a lot, and I want to be a part of that.”
Born in Bogata, Colombia, but raised from an infant in Sweden, Qwiberg mentioned the move to MLS will allow him to be closer to his roots. Curiously enough, Qwiberg has never been to the country of his birth, though that could change with his new adventure away from Europe. Still, his short-term focus will be on adapting to MLS and impressing Stahre during the preseason run-up to the Earthquakes season opener against Minnesota United. Already, Qwiberg likes what he sees in the team and in the opportunity he will have if he shows well.
“I had already gotten a good first impression two, three months ago when I first came in contact with the club, and my expectations have been exactly what I thought during the two weeks I have been here,” said Qwiberg. “Everything is great, everything feels great, I feel fit, and the guys on the team are extremely friendly, and welcoming in the best way.”
The defender was an early arrival in San Jose, having a chance to get in some training before the official start of preseason camp on January 23. He is quickly getting to know the area too, not just the environs of Avaya Stadium, and he likes what he’s seen so far. On the field he has been getting more and more into shape — he admitted that he still had a little bit more fitness to catch up on — and he welcomed the scrimmages and practice games that the Quakes have lined up over the next few weeks.
“My whole plan is to be fit and ready for the third of March, that’s the whole idea of it,” said Qwiberg, alluding to San Jose’s season opener. “And, of course, I want to play as much as possible, that’s why I came here. I played 60 games over two years with my old team. I come here because I want to win, to win games, and play, of course.”