Sweden’s notable exports include Ikea, Pippi Longstocking and Avicii. If Cal Poly men’s soccer player Bjorn Sandberg keeps playing at his current rate, he too could become a household name — at least in San Luis Obispo.
Though Sandberg originally hails from Sodertalje, Sweden, he transferred to Cal Poly from Oregon State after the 2013 season. After a redshirt season spent on the sidelines in San Luis Obispo, Sandberg has emerged as a consistent presence on and off the field for the No. 20 Mustangs so far this season.
“I think players that play in Europe come from a culture of soccer and that’s always going to help when you come and play competitively in the U.S.,” head coach Steve Sampson said. “The approach and experience that Bjorn brings to the game really just raises the level of everyone around him.”
In his first year playing for Oregon State, Sandberg emerged as an early starter. The centre back ended up starting all but two of the team’s 18 matches. He followed that with a sophomore campaign where his three assists ranked third on Oregon State’s talented squad.
Having previously played amongst top-tier talent in the Pac-12 Conference, Sandberg brings experience and depth to this year’s lineup. The graphic communication major also brings a fresh brand of foreign athleticism not taught in American soccer academies.
In his youth, Sandberg tried his hand at basketball, making it as far as the Swedish U16 National Team. Now the oldest player on Cal Poly’s roster at 23, he brings a level of maturity that has helped an established program.
“I think he just adds a lot of good chemistry to the group,” senior midfielder Matt LaGrassa said. “When he came to visit and I first met him, I knew he was a guy we needed for the team. He sees the vision for the team and we are happy to have him.”
The men’s soccer program features players from foreign countries like New Zealand, Sweden and England, making up one of the most globalized athletic rosters on Cal Poly’s campus. Sandberg is one of a handful of foreign transplants playing under first-year head coach Steve Sampson.
The initial culture shock is one of the only things these players have to overcome. Sandberg admits that America is much different than Sweden, but the transition was never really that hard for him.
The style of play may not be the same, as American college soccer focuses more on individual battles than the European collective-based style, but Sandberg was aware of the difference when he left home.
There is one thing Sandberg does have an issue with, but it has little to do with what happens on the pitch: “I think the food is better in Sweden, sorry.”
With the addition of Sandberg, the Mustangs have proved successful thus far this season. After a legendary victory over Big West Conference-leading UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly (8-3-3, 3-1-2 Big West) is now in second place in the Big West’s North Division. Aside from a 4-1 loss to UCLA early in the year, the Mustangs have shown strong character throughout a consistent 2015 campaign.
Nowhere was this more apparent than during the latest installment of the Blue-Green Rivalry. Coming into the game ranked 13th in the nation, the Gauchos were favored to beat the Mustangs.
Cal Poly held its own and after an overtime header goal from Wakasa, the match became history. The latest success only a sign of more good things to come from the soccer program.