American players have had mixed success this season in the 2011 Allsvenskan.
It has been a season of disappointment and discovery for three – make that two – American players in the 2011 Allsvenskan.
Top of the list is U.S. international midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who toils for Örebro. After starting the season with eyes on the Lennart Johansson trophy, Bedoya and his teammates are now locked simply in a battle for survival. Despite the change in fortunes at ÖSK, Bedoya has been a bright spot in the team’s season.
Head coach Sixten Boström shifted the New Jersey native into an attacking midfield role and Bedoya has simply thrived. He has five goals in 12 games – one more than he tallied all of last season – and has attracted the attention of several large European clubs.
For Bedoya, it’s all in a day’s work.
“I have learned so much here at Örebro,” Bedoya said. “The club has helped me in every aspect. I am much better technically, can hold the ball much better, and I understand where to be on the field.”
Bedoya’s manager is just as happy with the midfielder’s progress.
“He has really improved and is a very important player for us,” Boström said. “The really good thing about Alejandro is he wants to learn. He is also very popular with his teammates. He is a good player to have.”
The American’s improvement on the field has caught the attraction of several teams outside Sweden. Belgium club Brugge claimed it all but signed the American back in June before the deal fell apart. Glasgow Rangers of Scotland have also scouted Bedoya
Still, not everything is rosy for Bedoya and ÖSK. After starting the season with thoughts of challenging for the Swedish championship, Örebro has more than just stumbled. ÖSK is mired in six-game winless streak, including five straight wins, that sent Örebro tumbling from third to 12th in the standings.
“We’re just not playing well,” Bedoya said. “We’re not doing the things we did last year. We don’t have the same pace we did last year or the same confidence. It’s going to be a tricky second half of the season, I think.”
Ryan Miller in Halmstad
Bedoya isn’t the only American facing a tricky second half. Halmstad defender Ryan Miller and his teammates are locked in a desperate battle for survival at the bottom of the standings.
HBK started the 2011 season as the grand experiment of sorts, as new head coach “Pep” Clotet Ruiz tried to build a Spanish team in Sweden. Ruiz brought in five players from Spain – including three from Real Madrid – as he tried to re-make the team. Miller, a product of Notre Dame, looked to be the odd man out but his speed and determination earned him a spot on the team.
Miller’s starts were few as Ruiz used him mostly as a substitute until the rook finally caved in at Örjans vall. The five Spaniards never adapted to Swedish life or football and Halmstad went two months before claiming its first win.
Miller said the toughest part of the first half of the season has simply been coping with fans’ expectations.
“It's a small club, but it's the only small club in Sweden that's won a championship," Miller said. “The fans are a little bit spoiled for a small club, they expect big things. When we have seasons like this year, they can't stand it. You feel bad walking around town because you're letting them down.”
Miller, however, has been anything but a let-down this year. After starting on the bench, his speed and work rate earned him a starting role. He quickly found himself assigned as the man marker on opponent’s leading scorers and hust down the likes of Alexander Gerndt of Helsingborg and Mattias Ranegie of Häcken.
The former DC United and Columbus Crew player, however, couldn’t stop Halmstad’s downward spiral. The Spanish players never really gelled with their teammates and Ruiz had no real back up plan. As the losses piled up, so, too, did the frustration with Ruiz. The Spanish manager sacked his five imports in June, but that did nothing to stop the free fall. After a 3-1 loss to AIK july 3, Halmstad fired Ruiz and brought in Jen Gustafsson. The move did little to stop the bleeding but Miller’s play earned him his first-ever call-up to the U.S. national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Now, the defender says he is thinking of bigger things while keeping his focus on Halmstad.
“I've got two years left on my contract, so I have a while,” he said. “I plan on playing out my two final years, and of course, I want to play at the highest level possible. If I can switch to a bigger venue, I'll do that. Scandinavia is a good window into Europe. There are always scouts at games. A lot of teams come here and grab players for cheap.”
Djurgården's Agbossoumonde cut
Finally, there is the case of American international defender Gale Agbossoumonde. The 19-year-old central defender joined Djurgården at the start of the season with a pile of expectations. He stormed his way into the lineup of the full U.S. squad last winter. Although much bigger clubs wanted his services, Agbossoumonde chose DIF thinking he could learn more about European football.
It never worked out.
Agbossoumonde was somewhat lazy in training – something that irritated his coaches in the States – and soon found himself relegated to the bench. When he stopped playing, Djurgården started winning and manager Magnus Pehrsson quickly connected the two.
On July 17, DIF cut the American defender.
“Gale has been with us for six months and I think he has developed step by step, but when he came off the team when we started winning,” Pehrsson said. “it has been difficult for him to take another step.”
So far, no teams in Sweden seem willing to take a chance on the teenager, who has buckets of talent but who can’t seem to combine a strong work ethic with that talent.
While Bedoya and Miller have bright futures, what could come next for Agbossoumonde is cloudy. The big defender is likely to return to the U.S., where several Major League Soccer clubs are reportedly interested in what is now clearly a reclamation project.
by Chipp Reid