What we said at the end of 2016:
We all know that Axel Sjoberg is an all-star worthy center back. He was awarded with Defensive Player of the Year from the Colorado Rapids, and came in third for MLS Defender of the Year. Besides a wrist injury at Vancouver, Sjoberg was able to stay healthy this year, and was integral to the Rapids defense this season.
2017 Counting Stats: 19 GP, 19 GS, 1 G, 0 A, 1637 min, 1 YC, 1 RC
93 Clearances, 10 Blocks (4 in one game), 27 Interceptions, and 10 Tackles
Axel scored his only goal in 2017 on August 5th at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park against the Vancouver Whitecaps (for the 2-2 draw).
But it’s easy to make a guy’s only goal a season highlight, so here’s a save off the line vs. Real Salt Lake on August 26th.
Season Lowlight: As RapidsRabbi said, “it isn't an own goal, but it might as well have been.” Axel pretty much gives Jack McBean the assist with a terrible first touch.
I’m not quite the masochist that Rapids Rabbi is, so I didn’t go back and watch all of the games and highlights. This review is based on the stats and my memory of subjecting myself to watching almost every single game this season. So maybe I am a bit of a masochist. But either way...
After last year’s performance, we had high hopes for Axel. He came out strong in the first game of the year vs. New England, earning a spot on the MLS Team of the Week. Unfortunately, it was mostly downhill from there (to be fair, it wasn’t entirely Axel’s fault). Sjoberg injured his hamstring in the March 11th match vs. the New York Red Bulls and had to get surgery. He was in the 18 against the Chicago Fire on May 17th, but didn’t see the pitch again until May 21st in the Rapids loss to the Philadelphia Union.
Then Axel got injured in training and missed the next two games. He came back for two games in May and then hurt his hamstring in the U.S. Open Cup match vs. FC Dallas on June 27th and missed the next three games.
He missed one game in August and one game in September, but I think that was because the coaches were drawing names out of a hat to see who would start at that point.
His strongest and weakest performances were back-to-back at the end of the season. Axel racked up a big chunk of stats in the win vs. Real Salt Lake on October 15: 4 interceptions, 10 clearances, and 4 blocks. His worst performance was in the 3-0 loss vs. the Seattle Sounders on October 23. In the 62nd minute, Sjoberg ran in and pulled down Will Bruin. He was initially given a yellow card, but VAR deemed it a red and Head Referee Chris Penso ejected him. Nicolas Lodeiro made the penalty shot, putting Seattle up 2-0. (The red card will carry over as a suspension for the first game of the 2018 season.)
When it was all said and done, Axel played 19 games this season, or just more than half of the regular season. We continued to see him dominate when it came to aerial balls and clearances, but there was some definite miscommunication between him and whoever was the other center back at the time: it could have been Kortne Ford. Or Jared Watts. Or Mike da Fonte. Or Bobby Burling... see where I’m going with this? It’s no secret that the Rapids defense was not was it was last year, and you could argue that a big factor was that the anchor of the defense was injured for just less than half the season. The back line was very inconsistent this year.
At the end of 2016, I would have given Axel an A - no question about it. This year, he was an average defender with a huge height advantage (when he was out there). He made some mistakes, but overall he was fine.
The Rapids signed him to a 3-year contract back in July, so I’m hoping we see the healthy Axel Sjoberg on the pitch in 2018.
Abbie’s 2017 Grade: B-
Rabbi’s 2017 Grade: C+