With the Swedish Allsvenskan season getting ready to begin in early April, American and Mjallby forward Sam Petrone is aiming for a big season and league title.
After completing his senior season at Seton Hall University, Petrone was offered a week-long trial by Mjallby. To say it was a very successful would be an understatement.
In Petrone's first game on the trial, he scored two goals when he played with a mix of the youth team and the senior team. He matched that total in his second game, this time with the full first team.
"Going into it, I didn't think about my chances," Petrone told YA. "I just wanted to be as prepared as I could. But after scoring two goals, I was pretty optimistic. I was just sitting around all night after the game wondering what the Sporting Director was going to talk to me about the next day."
While Petrone was nervous, the next day he sat down with coach and he got the news he was hoping to hear.
"I sat down with him and he asked me how I liked it and if I enjoyed my time there," recalled Petrone. "I said I loved it and then he said they wanted to offer me a contract. It still hasn't sunk in for me really. I was overjoyed."
Club officials at Mjallby were also impressed with Petrone's game, and Mjallby President Jorgen Martinsson is confident that the New Jersey native can emerge as a top player in Sweden.
"Samuel has made some impression, on the field and off," Martinsson said. "We really think that he has the skill and the character to be a top player in Sweden."
Petrone's successful trial has seen expectations become elevated but he remains confident that he can help the team succeed.
Last season Mjallby finished in sixth place in the Allsvenskan but scored just 36 goals in 30 games. Petrone is hopeful to become part of an improved offense.
"I am glad they have so much faith in me," Petrone said of the expectations. "When I get back there, I still have things to prove. I was only there a week and I think I showed how I can play. I still need to learn some things. I hope I get my chance to be one of the elite players. If I play the way I did during the trial, I think I can score some goals."
Petrone, 21, is happy with how he fits in with the club and he attributes this largely to the style that head coach Peter Swardh plays. Unlike NCAA soccer, Petrone now finds himself with a system that plays to his strengths.
"I like the style a lot," Petrone said of Mjallby's strategy. "They play 4-4-2. I am really fond of our coach. We keep the ball on the ground and we move it around. The way the coach has me playing is a perfect fit because I check back a little bit into the midfield and everyone is moving for each other. It's a great style of play for me because I'm not the fastest guy."
"I like playing with my back to the goal. I don't like running onto long-balls as much as I do coming back into the midfield and then joining the attack. I'd rather just keep the ball moving."
During Petrone's two games on his trial, he feels he was able to score four times because he was playing with a possession oriented team with the ball on the ground.
"I like to have the ball at my feet," Petrone pointed out. "I look for ways to send other players in on goal. I like to work with other forwards to get chances. Here I can do both things. I can check in but we also have really talented midfielders so I can also push up and play that pure striker role. That's how I score my goals on trial. I slipped into the passing lanes and they would find me alone against the keeper. Most of my goals come from inside the 18 with quick touches after finding a little bit of space."
Petrone knows that it will be tough to get a starting spot to begin the season but he does feel that there is a chance even with Mjallby returning top forwards Marcus Ekenberg and Mostapha El Kabir to the squad.
There are rumors, however, that El Kabir will be getting sold in the upcoming summer window and Petrone could be a replacement for El Kabir who scored 10 goals in 2010.
"I think it's going to be a challenge," Petrone said of the upcoming season. "I think I am going to fight really hard to get a starting spot but I think it's an opportunity to learn from a great player [like El Kabir]. If I don't win a starting spot, I still feel like I will grow as a player. I feel that if I play like I can, I can still get some playing time."
Petrone's will arrive at Mjallby after playing four years of college soccer - two years at Clemson before transferring to Seton Hall. NCAA soccer has long been a source of criticism in terms of how it develops elite professional talent, but Petrone believes he took positives away from his time in college.
"I don't regret college," Petrone stated. "But I didn't have the best experience in that I didn't score as many goals as I would like to but it did help me a lot. Especially coming into the Swedish league that is pretty physical and a lot of the college guys are pretty physical and are that much tactically. When I got to Sweden, it was physical, but I was used to it. I think I took away a lot from college."
Also an important part of his background was his time playing youth club soccer. Petrone spent most of his time with World Class FC in addition to stints with the youth teams of New York Red Bulls where he got his introduction as to what it was like to be part of a professional organization.
Petrone trained with the first team at New York a few times but never felt that joining the team on a full-time basis was a real possibility. While it was always his goal to play in Europe, he was still appreciative of his time within the Red Bulls organization and feels that MLS systems, like the one the Red Bulls have, can only help soccer in the US.
"I really enjoyed it at Red Bulls," Petrone discussed. "I was a guest for them a couple of times. I went down to Florida with a [youth team] from the Red Bulls. The first thing that struck me was how professionally they run their teams. I felt like I was part of a professional organization and I hope they start to implement that more into the US system."
"I can't say I played for them consistently. I played for the U-20 Red Bulls and it gave me a little taste of what it was like to be a professional and we won the Super Y championships."
Petrone and Mjallby open their Allsvenskan season on April 4th when they host last season's runners up Helsingborg.