BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, September 7, 2010
After finishing the 2010 season with Real Maryland of the USL-2, American central defender Mason Trafford has signed with Finnish Veikkausliiga club IFK Mariehamn.
His transition to his new club was a quick process for Trafford. After completing the USL-2 season in early August, Trafford went to Finland to trial with Mariehamn on August 21 and signed less than a week later.
Even though Trafford has been at Mariehamn for less than two weeks, he is already enjoying the environment of his new club as well as life in Aland, the chain of islands off the coast of Finland where the club is located and a place where Swedish culture actually dominates.
"I really like it. It's been really good actually," Trafford told YA from Finland. "I've never been on a team where all the guys are so close and everybody has fun together. Because it's a smaller club in a smaller city, I think they find a lot of strength in being a close-knit group." "
"From the management to the coaching staff to the players," he continued. "Everybody seems to be quite friendly with each other. It's made it easier for me to get settled in right away."
Trafford has joined IFK Mariehamn with the club being in the midst of a relegation battle. But despite the low position in the current table he is confident the club can not only avoid the drop but also climb the standings as the season enters the final stretch.
"The team is fighting a bit of a relegation battle but one win could move you up or down five places," Trafford discussed. "Definitely the top priority for me is to see the team avoids relegation. But I don't think that should be a problem for this club after what I have seen since I got here. Last year they were one off the Europa League spot."
Trafford, 24, arrived in Finland after a few years of USL experience between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Real Maryland. While playing in North America, he played several different positions ranging from central midfield to fullback and central defense.
Now with Mariehamn, Trafford has settled in at central defense.
"What the team needed was a leader at central defense," Trafford said of his role on the team. "A player that could organize guys and not be afraid to get the team going and get up and down the field. That has sort of been my role so far in what they asked me to do."
Trafford was born in Florida but was raised in Vancouver where he developed his game during his youth. He then returned to the US to continue his development in college at UNLV before starting his professional career.
He feels the different styles between the US and Canada are both evident in his game.
"I've gone through a couple of changes in my career," Trafford recalled. "In Vancouver, I developed one aspect of my game and in Maryland, I developed others. Right now I would describe myself as the type of defender that links up and likes to play with the ball and make passes. I'm more of a technical centerback."
It is also this combination of the different styles during his development that Trafford feels will make him an asset in European development with Mariehamn
"I developed in Canada in a European school and coached under Roman Tulis, who recently passed away," Trafford analyzed. "There I developed the technical side of the game. When I moved to the US in the college game and the USL, it wasn't so technical but the USL was a physical league. But I have seen both the technical and physical sides of the game. Now I feel I am really ready to make the jump over here to Europe."
Trafford is optimistic that his time in Europe will be successful because he has finally now able to add all aspects to his game to become a complete player.
"My career has been different than most people," the former Runnin' Rebel standout opined. "I have kind of flown under the radar for most of my career and I am just now at 24 coming into my own. Physically I am maturing later than most players. I've been trying to add the physical aspect to my game and be a presence on offense and defense. I also am working on becoming a threat on set-pieces. "
Trafford, who is a dual national with both the US and Canada, started for Mariehamn in his first match after signing when the club took on league leaders, HJK Helsinki, on the road.
While Mariehamn lost 3-1, their schedule is favorable during the final six weeks of the season and Trafford is optimistic that he will be a part of the team's plans for the foreseeable future.
"Personally, I just want to lock down a starting spot and be one of the main players in the defense and secure a good deal for next year and in years to come," Trafford concluded. "I am committed to this club for now. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. There is still a lot of work to be done here. "