CARSON, Calif. – Bruce Arena has spent the offseason reshaping his roster ahead of the 2014 campaign and on Thursday, he acquired his long desired wide midfielder with the signing of Swedish international Stefan Ishizaki.
The 31-year-old right-sided player has spent the last eight years with Sweden Allsvenskan side Elfsborg after stints with Italian club Genoa, Norwegian side Vålerenga, and fellow Swedish club AIK. Ishizaki’s signing is the latest addition by LA this month, joining center forwards Rob Friend and Samuel as well as 2014 MLS SuperDraft second round pick, defender Kyle Venter.
For a team that had suffered through inconsistent wide play over the past year, Ishizaki’s signing was a major step in the right direction for LA according to Arena.
“[Ishizaki] is a very good passer. Very composed and experienced. He gives us a little something different in the midfield,” said the Galaxy head coach and general manager. “He’ll make plays that amount to something. We have a lot of players with a lot of energy with good intentions, but he’s the player that will make the final pass.”
The Galaxy weren’t the first MLS suitor for Ishizaki who had garnered interest from a number of clubs over the past several years while serving as a regular in midfield for Elfsborg. During those years, Ishizaki had kept a close-eye on the league, watching the high profile move of his former Sweden teammate Christian Wilhelmsson to the Galaxy in 2012.
But ultimately, it was a conversation with former Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Erik Friberg that helped seal the deal. Oh, and the picturesque weather in Southern California—a far cry from frigid Borås, Sweden—helped a bit too.
“I spoke to Erik Friberg and asked him what he thought of MLS and living in the States. He said that I should definitely go so that just made the decision much easier,” said Ishizaki. “It’s L.A., the weather, the people, the beach. It’s a great package.”
Ishizaki describes himself as a midfielder who is incredibly “calm on the ball” and who can also be a weapon on set pieces due to his dangerous right-footed cross. In terms of position, the Swede admits that he’s played predominantly at right midfield during his career—a spot that could put him in direct competition with Landon Donovan’s usual midfield slot—but the Swede believes that no matter where he plays, he can blossom into a dangerous weapon in Arena’s attacking arsenal.
“I’ve played everywhere in midfield but I’m more comfortable on the right,” said Ishizaki who also admitted that his crossing ability is better with his right foot than his left. “When I’m on the left, I usually go a bit more to the inside and try to get shots off and make combinations with the strikers, but when I’m on the right, it’s a little bit more of a crossing style of play and trying to find the strikers while getting behind the back four.”
Although the rigors of MLS can plague new international arrivals, Ishizaki is confident that he can adjust to the league’s many unique challenges.
“I’m a strong player who can deal with the physicality and high tempo,” Ishizaki said in regards to the league’s physical play.
The Swedish international is also familiar with the rigors of Cross-country road trips after making more than 40 appearances in Europe during his time with Elfsborg and Vålerenga.
The only potential concern for the Swede is the altitude, something that he’ll become familiar with during the club’s trips to Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium and the Colorado Rapids’ Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“I remember that we played in Ecuador and Venezuela, there was a very high altitude and it’s tough,” said Ishizaki. “While you can play a game at it, the recovery isn’t the same as when you play at sea level.”
Although there will surely be some bumps along the road over the course of the season, Ishizaki is eager to help the Galaxy reach the MLS summit yet again.
“I know that expectations are high here because this is one of the top teams in the league,” said Ishizaki. “Last year when we missed out on winning the championship it was a disappointment, but now we’re looking to improve.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com