BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, January 6, 2012
After a solid two seasons at the University of Virginia, American winger Cobi Span is excited to begin his professional career with Djurgarden's in the Swedish Allsvenskan.
Span, 19, flew to Sweden last week to complete his signing of the two year contract. The Swedish club had been monitoring his progress all year and was confident to sign him despite the fact he never had a formal trial with the club.
"I've been in touch with Djurgarden for awhile now," Span told YA. "It's been a couple of months. I went over to Sweden last summer but I was at Orebro. I also went to Germany to train at Hoffenheim. [Djurgarden] heard about me. I think they came and took a look at me when I was with Orebro. I know they talked with the coaches at Orebro and Hoffenheim. They had a continuing interest me."
Once Span finished his second year at UVA, he was determined to turn professional. Like many young players the first decision was whether or not to begin in MLS or move overseas.
In the end of the day, the tipping point was the fact that Generation Adidas did not offer Span a contract and clubs in Europe maintained their interest throughout his whole NCAA season.
"[Djurgarden] had an offer for me towards the end of the season," Span said. "I was waiting on whether or not MLS Generation Adidas would come through or not. It was 50-50. But I kind of decided I wanted to go to Sweden."
Despite not getting the GA deal from MLS, Span feels that the opportunity to move to Europe with the Djurgarden offer is the best path for him at this point in his career. MLS was a consideration for him but the chance to move to Europe offers Span more by way of development.
"I think going to Europe is the best route for me," Span stated confidently. "The potential is there to develop into a better player. The coach really believes in me. He thinks I have a ton of potential that he can bring out and develop me into a starter. I always wanted to play in MLS someday in my life. I didn't know if it was sooner or later but I always thought if I wanted to be the best player I could be - Europe would be the better route."
The Swedish Allsvenskan is not one of the most visible leagues in the United States but Span is well aware that it has been a solid starting point for American players like Charlie Davies and Alejandro Bedoya.
Span realizes that it will take him some time to adjust to the professional level of play and the higher quality of play, but he is optimistic he will breakthrough this year.
"It's still a league where a couple of Americans have done well," Span explained. "Charlie Davies and Alejandro Bedoya did really well and got a lot of looks form other clubs. I think I can make a similar impact. It'll take me a few months to really get settled in and get my confidence. But I think I can earn a starting spot this year."
As Span walks away from UVA, he will do so with an appreciation for college soccer and how it helped him develop as a player.
Through his two seasons as a Cavalier, Span consistently started and played almost every single minute. It was an important transition phase that allowed him to transition from youth soccer to adult soccer.
"I think college soccer was beneficial to me," Span discussed. "I think for some kids that go overseas at a young age, they don't get as much playing time as they would like. I played almost 90 minutes every single game. Even though everyone at that level is not as skillful as the professional level, I had to adjust my game to play with players that are fast and have quick pace. I learned to get around bigger defenders. I did [strength] training to get my weight up a little bit. It started to get me ready to become a professional even in college."
Span is a versatile player who is naturally right footed but he can strike the ball well with either foot. His game is built on taking defenders on and using pace to either move down the side and send in crosses or cut into the middle of the field.
As a tall player at 6'3, Span plays primarily on either wing but towards the end of last season with UVA, he played in the central attacking midfield position in a 4-1-2-1-2 formation.
Span has already met with Djurgarden head coach Magnus Pehrsson and knows that he will be playing primarily on the left wing.
"I know the coach likes to have sort of a 4-3-3," Span said of Pehrsson's plans. "But they want me to come in and play on the left side. They like to have opposite footed guys on the wings - left footed guys on the right and right footed guys on the left. They want me to take defenders on, make things happen and connect with guys at the top of the box."
Span grew up in Westchester, New York and is the son of an American-born father and a Costa Rican-born mother. It was there in New York that he earned the nickname Cobi after his coach at the time noticed similarities in his style with that of former US national team player Cobi Jones. Soon after his teammates began calling him Cobi instead of his real name "Brian" and the nickname stuck.
To this day, Span is yet to meet Cobi Jones but he does hope to emulate his success as a cornerstone of the US national team.
Span has played in the past with the US U-17 national team and was in residency in Bradenton. He has yet, however, to play at a higher level.
Now that he has signed a professional deal, his next goal on the international front will be to catch the eye of US U-23 head coach Caleb Porter who will be putting together his team for the Olympics in 2012. Span admits it is on his mind.
"I definitely want to get back with the national team," Span concluded. "One hundred percent. For the U-23's, maybe it'll happen if I start doing well this season and break into the starting lineup. I definitely want to get called into a camp if I can and work towards the Olympics this summer. If not, maybe the US [senior] team later on."