New Austin defenseman Leo Väisänen has not yet arrived in town, but he already has high hopes for the club and himself for the upcoming season.
El Tree head coach Josh Wolff said Väisänen will be considered as a starting centre-back whenever he arrives at training camp – a Finnish citizen, he is currently awaiting approval of his work visa – and Väisänen himself noted this week that he is not comes to Austin to sit on the bench.
“In (football), you have to take a seat,” Väisänen told Zoom in an interview with American-Statesman. “My goal is to take the starting position as quickly as possible. I will go there to play. I am an ambitious football player and I want to play in every match and be a professional.”
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Ruben Gabrielsen’s departure left a small hole in Austin’s defense as he formed a solid pair with Julio Cascante at center last year as El Tri finished second in the West, won the Texas Cup and advanced to the Western Conference Finals. in the playoffs.
But Väisänen has a solid pedigree – at 25, he is almost six years younger than Gabrielsen – he has been constantly playing for the Finnish national team for the last four years, and spent the last three years in the Swedish top flight for Elfsborg.
He was a full-time starter for Elfsborg, making 94 appearances, and before that he played in the Dutch second division and the Finnish first division.
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He made 23 appearances for Finland, including six World Cup qualifiers and one Euro 2020 match. Väisänen has said that his time in the international game has helped him grow as a player the most.
“It was a big step when I started playing for the national team when I was 21,” he said. “It was nice to learn from the guys then, especially about what it means to put on a national team jersey. I had the biggest and toughest games of my career for the national team. Every time I came back to the Swedish league it got easier because I felt confident playing against better players. It’s nice to be a part of it.”
At 6ft 2ft, Väisänen fits the mold of the taller centre-backs favored by Al Tree, and he describes himself as having all the qualities a successful defender needs.
“I am smart, calm with the ball, have good passing qualities, I am not afraid to go into duals and read the game well,” he said. “I try to make the players around me calm down and feel like I have a pretty finished game.”
Väisänen has been the focus of Austin Football Club for over a year, but now that he’s entered the prime of his career, he feels the moment is right to move to MLS.
“I have been looking for the next step for some time now,” he said. “I heard that MLS has been growing for several years now, with better stadiums and a higher level of play, so I feel like this is a natural step for me. Austin likes to build from the back, and that was attractive. They appreciate good passes and that’s what I’m capable of. I hope I can help them succeed.”
One aspect that also helped El Tree land Väisänen was the presence of captain and midfielder Alex Ring.
Both players are from the Finnish capital, Helsinki, and although they have never met in person, Ring provides Väisänen with a native speaker and someone already at the club with whom he can immediately connect.
“I knew about him before and talked to him a bit before signing the contract,” Väisänen said. “It helps when there is another Finnish player on the team. He can help me show the city and the team, and I’m looking forward to meeting him too.”
As he spends time at his home in Helsinki waiting for government approval to fly in and join the club, Väisänen said there is one thing he really wants to try when he finally arrives in Austin.
“I’ve heard a lot about barbecue,” he said with a laugh. “I’m looking forward to it.”