BRENDAN WIMBERLY - Monday, April 21, 2014
It's easy to understand why Americans might not follow the Swedish second tier but an American is in the middle of a Cinderella run in Scandinavia.
The ink has hardly dried on Patrick Hopkins contract with IK Sirius, but the Chicago native is already making waves in the Baltic Sea. With the Swedish Cup getting underway before the Superettan season, Sirius, newly promoted from the third tier Division One, have stormed their way to the semi-final of the Domestic Cup.
Hopkins came out of Depaul University in 2012 and immediately found success with Swedish team SK Ljungskile. In his two-year stretch with Ljungskile, the 26-year old American became a fixture in their back line, and eventually was named team captain.
Though successful with Ljungskile, Hopkins noticed something about Sirius appealing to him.
"(Confidence) is something I noticed before I'd even gotten here," Hopkins told Yanks Abroad about his new team.
"They want to get to the top division," he told YA, "I think that is the overall goal."
"I think the town, the team, and the club in general has a lot of potential, and they should be in the top division," Hopkins continued, "but I see them doing it the right way, they're building from the ground up. They know it's not something they can just throw money at."
Considering Sirius' success dominance of Division One last year, it's pretty obvious they're doing something the "right way". While Hopkins was still at Ljungskile, Sirius went undefeated through the 26 game Division One season, winning 21 games while tying the other five.
After a season like that, it's no surprise Hopkins team has picked up where they left off.
"It's a group with a tremendous amount of confidence," said Hopkins. "We definitely feel like we belong in the semi-final."
The Superettan team have certainly earned their swagger. After downing Swedish giants Djurgardens and Halmstad as well as Assyriska in the group stage of the Cup, Sirius pulled off a legendary 1-0 upset over IFK Goteborg on the road to push their way through to the semi-final.
Hopkins, who has played all 360 minutes of their remarkable run through the Cup thus far, acknowledges that although his teammates have full faith in their abilities, not everyone was envisioning a road win over Goteburg to keep their dream alive.
"Beating IFK Goteburg in Gothenburg maybe was a surprise result for a lot of people...I don't think we knew going into the game that we had a good chance," said Hopkins. "I'd say there's definitely a lot of confidence in this group (after beating IFK Goteburg)."
After the win in Gothenburg, Hopkins said he gathered with a few of his teammates to watch the draw for the semi-finals and they got what they were hoping for, a home game.
"We were all kind of hoping we'd get a home game because I think it's so much cooler to host it at a lower-level team. It's cool for the town, it's cool for the club, especially financially," said Hopkins.
What is also cool for this Cinderella story is that their run has given them a legitimate shot to qualify for the Europa League next season. Last year's Allsvenskan champions, Malmo, are already qualified for European play, and if Sirius and Malmo both advance to face each other in the finals, Hopkins and his team would already be guaranteed a spot in the Europa League by virtue of making it to the finals.
Before that happens however, Sirius have the tall task of taking down another Allsvenskan power, Elfsborg on May 1st. Elfsborg were one of the stingiest defensive teams in all of Sweden last year and boast the all-time leader in caps for the Swedish national team in Anders Svensson, who racked up 148 appearances for Sweden.
All that said, the two did meet in last year's Swedish Cup and Sirius defeated Elfsborg 2-1.
For the moment though, Sirius are just focused on themselves and they continue to do it the "right way", as they made a statement in their first game in the second division since 2009. Hopkins contributed a goal as Sirius dismantled Syrianska 5-1.