D.C. United has announced the acquisition of center back Axel Sjöberg, who joins the Black-and-Red following a trade with the Columbus Crew. United has sent winger Emmanuel Boateng to the Crew in exchange, as first reported by The Washington Post’s Steve Goff. Sjöberg, a 29-year-old Swede, has a U.S. green card and will not require an international roster spot.
In a team press release, United GM Dave Kasper summed up the club’s rationale for the move. “We are excited to add some important depth at center back ahead of the continuation of the MLS season. Axel is a physically imposing center back who was known for his consistency and steadiness during his time in Colorado and we’re looking forward to adding that experience and ability to our roster.”
In his previous five MLS seasons, the 6’ 7” Sjöberg has put together 88 appearances (84 starts), including a role as a full-time starter for the 2016 Colorado Rapids side that fell just short of an MLS Cup appearance. Sjöberg made the MLS Best XI for his contributions, while the Rapids conceded just 32 goals (7 fewer than any other team in the league that year).
However, he fell out of favor last spring following former head coach Anthony Hudson’s dismissal, eventually being waived at the end of the year. Columbus picked Sjöberg up off waivers soon thereafter, but the later additions of Vito Wormgoor and the emergence of homegrown center back Aboubacar Keita left little room for Sjöberg in Caleb Porter’s plans. Sjöberg was set to spend the 2020 season on loan with San Antonio FC in the USL Championship, but only appeared in their season opener before the coronavirus pandemic forced the shutdown of domestic soccer.
United entered the 2020 season with just three center backs: captain Steven Birnbaum, veteran Frederic Brillant, and homegrown product Donovan Pines. With Pines missing a significant chunk of the preseason due to injuries and Brillant turning 35 in June, bolstering the group with another center back has long been an item on the club’s to-do list.
The move comes at little real cost to United, who are deeper on the wings than anywhere else on the field. Homegrown attacker Kevin Paredes broke through during the MLS is Back Tournament as a viable competitor for playing time right now, and fellow academy product Griffin Yow has also shown that he merits looks in the first team. Throw in presumptive starters Julian Gressel and Yamil Asad, injured Designated Player Paul Arriola, frequent contributor Ulises Segura, and the possible option of moving Edison Flores wide and starting Federico Higuain, and it is hard to see when Boateng would have gotten onto the field.
The move leaves United with 25 players on their roster, which is to say they still have plenty of room to add reinforcements. United also has plenty of time to make some moves, with MLS’s second window remaining open until October 29 thanks to the adjustments the league and FIFA had to make due to the Covid-19 pandemic.