BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, May 10, 2012
It wasn't long ago when a young Charlie Davies became a hero in Sweden with Hammarby and now in 2012, Baggio Husidic is part of an American contingent aiming to bring the club back to glory.
Last December former US international Gregg Berhalter was hired to coach the club which in 2011 flirted with relegation out of Sweden's second division, the Superettan.
When Berhalter accepted the job one of his first acts was to call Husidic, 24, and convince him to join Hammarby. Husidic was a free agent after playing with the Chicago Fire in the 2011 MLS season. For him, Berhalter's offer was simply too good to refuse.
"Gregg called me and kind of filled me into what was going on," Berhalter told YA. "He told me what an exciting club it was and what an exciting city it was in. He told me about the history of the club and the passionate fan base they had. It literally only took one phone call and 20 minutes later I called him back and told him I said yes."
Despite playing in the second division, Hammarby has one of the bigger fan bases in Sweden. The Stockholm-based club was the Champion of the top division, the Allsvenskan, in 2001 and finished in second place in 2003.
In 2009, the club suffered financial problems and were relegated to the Superettan in 2009. In 2011, the club finished in 11th place in the 16 team league and narrowly escaped having to play in relegation playoff by one point.
The club hoped Berhalter would reverse the club's slide and so far the signs have been remarkably promising. The club has four wins and a draw in its first five games of the Superettan season and Husidic, a holding midfielder, has played every single minute and has scored one goal.
"It's going well and we've started really strong," Husidic said. "We've already played two of the big teams in the league and beat them. Gregg has done a good job putting the team together. With the number of players brought into Hammarby and the quality of players one of the goals is obviously to go up and get the promotion.
After spending most of the past decade on a decline, Hammarby fans are feeling upbeat for the first time in years.
Husidic was aware of how passionate the fans were before he arrived and now early in the season he is beginning to notice that the fans are beginning to believe in the club again.
"Right now it's awesome," Husidic said. "The fans are really, really happy. For us to move up would be such a big deal for the fans and for the whole club. They're very passionate here and every year they talk about moving up to the top division."
For Husidic, Berhalter's coaching style has been a big reason for the club's strong start. Berhalter is only recently retired from the MLS but he has extensive playing experience that ranges from playing for European teams in England, Holland, and Germany.
In addition he's been capped 44 times by the United States and has been on two World Cup teams. Husidic believes Berhalter's experience as a player carries over into his coaching style.
"He's very structural," Husidic discussed. "He obviously wants to play an attractive style. We do that and get the results. He's the kind of guy who is respectful of all the guys. We respect him a lot and really believe in what he's trying to do. We've been able to stick together the last three or four months. As a former defender himself, he's all over the defenders. He goes crazy over the smallest little details."
"The mood on the team is actually really calm," he added. "We're not really looking ahead to anything. We're on a good run and just need to keep doing what we're doing and Gregg just has us prepared for the game ahead. He doesn't let us look ahead."
Husidic's journey into professional soccer was unconventional compared with other Americans. He was born in 1987 in Bosnia when it was part of Yugoslavia. Shortly after, the civil war broke out and Husidic and his family spent time in refugee camps.
In 1994, his family was able move to Germany where they stayed for four years. At the time, the United States had an immigration policy that allowed some of the refugees from the Yugoslavian war to move to the United States.
Husidic and his family moved to the Illinois in 1998 and around 2002 he became an American citizen.
"I've seen some pretty messed up stuff," Husidic recalled of his childhood. "I went through the war with refugee camps and that stuff. I only lived [in Bosnia] for seven years. I grew up in the US when I started getting more involved with soccer. Most of my childhood memories started in Germany and then in the United States."
Husidic went on to play NCAA soccer with the University of Illinois - Chicago where he was a standout player from 2006-2008. Following that he signed a Generation Adidas contract with MLS where he was drafted by the Chicago Fire in 2009.
Husidic played three season with the Fire where he played in 50 games. In 2011, Chicago declined their offer on Husidic's contract. He had options with other clubs but Berhalter's offer to join Hammarby offered him the opportunity to pursue a personal goal of his to play in Europe.
"One of my goals has always been to play in Europe and this was a really good stepping stone to get into it," Husidic explained. "Any player's dream is to keep moving up and I am the same way. This is a really good start and it's a really good league to display yourself."
Despite the abrupt ending to his tenure at Chicago, Husidic believes that his time in MLS helped him to get where he is right now as a player.
While there are still American players who have success in Europe bypassing MLS, most players still have roots in the United States' top domestic league.
"I think it is a really good league," Husidic said of MLS. "I had three, I wouldn't say successful, but I three fun and educational years there. It was good for my career. There were ups and downs but I would say mostly positive things I'm coming away with. MLS is a really, really tough league to play in. If you get your name out in MLS, it's a very good sign you can make it in other leagues."
One thing that Husidic does appreciate in Sweden's Superettan is that he now has more time on the ball which gives in the ability to create plays. The MLS, however did prepare Husidic for is the experience to handle physical play.
"For me, the MLS is very fast and very physical," Husidic compared. "The league I'm in now, the Superettan, is physical and direct. I think the difference is that it's a bit more tactical in Sweden. It's not quite as physical - you get a bit more time on the ball here. Everyone is an athlete in the States. It's a lot tougher to play in the States."
Either way, Husidic has found himself at a club where he has the full support of both the fans and his coach. From 2007-2009 Charlie Davies was one of Hammarby's most popular players and he remains in the hearts of the club's fans.
Now in 2012, Americans Berhalter, Husidic, and former North Carolina Tar Heel Billy Shuler are all significant parts of the club that will aim to return its status as one of the elite teams in the country. Americans usually don't have the highest reputation in Europe when it comes to soccer but it is clearly different with Hammarby.
"They really get the idea of Americans coming here in that they are really hard working and have a ‘never say die' attitude," Husidic concluded. "They appreciate that."