It all started with Thomas Ravelli and Jan Erixon.
The year after the iconic pair of Swedish international soccer players helped the Blue and Yellow take the bronze medal at the 1994 World Cup, Ravelli and Erixon joined what was then a startup league, Major League Soccer, in the United States.
Neither Swede found much success in the new league and both left after just one season. Despite the short stay, Ravelli and Erixon opened the door for Swedes in MLS and it also opened eyes in Sweden to talent coming out of America.
More than 15 years later at least one MLS team and one Allsvenskan team think the idea of a Swedish-American football alliance isn’t all that far-fetched.
“If you’re asking me whether we have our eyes on MLS and some of the talent in MLS, the answer is yes,” said Malmö head coach Rikard Norling. “I think there could be some very good, some very interesting players there for us.”
Norling has an insider’s knowledge of the players currently available in MLS, thanks to Erik Friberg. The 25-year-old midfielder joined Malmö in January from the Seattle Sounders, where he spent the 2011 season. Although he had a multi-year contract, Friberg spent just one season in North America. He said he and Seattle agreed to part ways when his wife became pregnant and wanted to raise their child in Sweden.
“I think MLS is a really underestimated league,” Friberg said. “There are a lot of players that should interest Allsvenskan clubs. The play is a little bit faster than it is here but maybe not as technical. I think MLS will grow a lot in the coming years.”


Seattle has earned the title of the most Swedish team in MLS after bringing Fredrik Ljungberg, Friberg and now former Göteborg captain Adam Johansson to the northwest. Friberg was instrumental in helping the Sounders sign Johansson, 28, to a three-year contract. Johansson said he is excited about the opportunity.
“It’s a big step for me, coming to the United States. It’s a long way from home and it’s going to be a great experience,” he said. “But I wouldn’t come if I didn’t find Seattle a great club and a club where I could win something.”
Seattle technical director Chris Henderson said Johansson would add a new dimension to a team that has made the MLS playoffs in each of the past four years.
“To have a guy who was a captain of his team become available and at a good age, he was a player that we followed,” Henderson said. “He’s a player who is tactically very smart. He’s a leader in the back. He has a good engine. He crosses well. He’s a solid player who tackles well and competes every time he plays.”
Although it has yet to tap into the vast pool of immigrant talent in the U.S., MLS uses a regional, ethnic approach to marketing teams. Seattle, with its deep roots in Scandinavia, is the perfect place for Swedes, one about which Friberg can’t say enough.
“If you are going to play anywhere in the U.S., it's in Seattle. They are far superior on the part of supporters there,” Friberg said.
The lure of MLS continues to be the league’s ability to attract and, in several cases, rejuvenate aging stars from other leagues. David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane are all league stars and all three continue to play for English, Italian or Spanish clubs on loans. Ljungberg, whose career seemed over, turned his sojourn at Seattle into an eye-opening move to Glasgow Celtic.

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Norling said Malmö has its eyes fixed on several players and is also now looking closer at players at several U.S. universities. He said the club plans to hire a full-time scout in the U.S.
Other teams are waking up to the possibilities of American players as well, a door that Charlie Davies, the former Hammarby striker, kicked open.
Djurgården, Örebro and AIK have all signed U.S. players over the winter, while Hammarby just hired an American head coach.
What makes the players signings different, however, is the players spurned offers from MLS to join the Allsvenskan, seeing the Swedish league as a better gateway to Europe than the U.S. circuit.
“I think this is the best path for me,” said new Djurgården midfielder Cobi Span. “I could have gone into the MLS draft—it was really 50-50, but I would like to eventually get into a big league in Europe so I think Sweden is the best place for me.
Span, 19, decided to leave the University of Virginia to join the Allsvenskan. He will see some familiar faces, at least when DIF plays Örebro. ÖSK signed 20-year-old striker Shaun Greenfield, who played at Boston University—where former Örebro midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and Davies both played.
Bedoya, who transferred to the Glasgow Rangers last summer, introduced Greenfield to the club and helped arrange his friend’s move from FC Odessa in Ukraine. Örebro also tried to sign U.S. U-20 international defender Jonathan Barrajo, but lost out on his services to the New York Red Bulls of MLS and their Swedish coach, Hasse Borg.
“There is a winning culture in American sports and it is something a lot of people are starting to recognize,” said Malmö general manager Pär Ågren. “I think there is going to be a lot of interest in American players because of that.”
It also means Swedish clubs could well have new rivals against whom to bid for new talent. Norling said it was simply part of the game.
"Everyone wants to find young players they can develop," he said. "I think America really offers some intriguing possibilities."

By Chipp Reid