Despite being born in Evansville Indiana, Mats is every bit the California kid. He grew up in Orange County ever since he could remember, going through the Irvine Public Schools at Deerfield Elementary and Irvine High School, then onto UC Irvine. His mom works for the local electric company (Southern California Edison) and his father is a marketing director. “I was a pretty good student. My Dad offered me $5 for every A I brought home so I just wanted to make as much money off him as I could!”

“I love to be at the beach,” Mats continues. “Last year my friend lived off the PCH and we went surfing every single day. Irvine is just a nice place. It is the safest city with a population over 200,000, amazing diversity too. You go outside and play until the sun goes down. I have probably checked the weather report more the past 2 months in St Louis than I did in 23 years in Irvine. It’s a place you grow up without any problems.”

With a Swedish father, Bjurman holds dual US and Swedish citizenship. His father spent time in a small town in Ohio as an exchange student, then moved over permanently after leaving school to Oklahoma which is where he met his mom. “My mom is native American, so I look a little darker than the majority of Swedes.” I jokingly ask if he and Dalgaard argue over who are the best Scandinavians? “Oh he knows what’s up there….. They were good in the 90’s maybe but since Zlatan came along it’s all us.”

When describing his day, Mats states that being a surfer, you have to be an early riser. “You have to check the surf forecast to see if there is a swell and then you have to check the tides and the wind to see when and where you should go. I probably surfed a bit too much last year truth be told. My coach, last year [Barry Venison] was like Preki and training was very intense. We gave 100% at training and didn’t have much energy to do much else, that said I am a firm believer in that you have to make time for your own activities, your own life outside of work. Whilst in a perfect world you should be able to go at 100% at training then refuel and sit in a dark room for the rest of the day, it really isn’t possible or good mentally. If you stay active it helps take your mind away from the day to day rigors of being a professional. It’s a really stressful job.  If you’re not starting it is all you can think about and you simply need an escape, especially me as I am a pretty intense person.”

Mats went direct from UC Irvine to OC Blues which play at the same Anteater Stadium. Although, he nearly went to Charleston Battery instead. “I was very close for signing for Charleston. I went out there for 10 days. They wanted to sign me, told me to go back to California and pack my stuff. Then it just seemed to take forever to get a contract in front of me. I was kind of getting scared seeing everyone signing for teams and I still didn’t have anything on paper. In the end I just decided to check out the Blues and they loved me there and it was for the best.”

“It was for the best as you went deep into the playoffs right?” I ask.

“Yes we played Sacramento 4 times in the regular season and had their number in 3 games so we were really confident playing them in the playoffs despite them being at home. I came off after 110 minutes with a cramp but I just knew we’d win. Even in the lottery of penalties I just knew. We had 5 penalties and scored them all. The western conference final against Swope was the same: I knew we’d win. They went down to 10 men and I came off again with cramp in the 77th minute. Just after that Swope went down to 9 men. I should have stayed on with all the extra space I’d have enjoyed. Yet it wasn’t to be. Quite how we lost I’ll never know, but when Dane Kelly is on the field he is dangerous.”

Mats best friend is Nick Radosavljevic; it was them talking on the phone that the possibility on playing for his Dad came about. “As soon as I knew there was interest I was really up for it” Mats said. “The facilities here are second to none; we trained in a public park at OC. I’ve been to Charleston too and this outstrips it. The turf maybe an issue but I’ll worry about that when my knees are in their thirties. Honestly though, the fans. We keep going to these events and seeing the numbers show up, it is unbelievable. It’s all we can talk about when we leave is how the fans are so into it. The AGM, the season ticket meetups, the kit release. It is amazing. And what happened on Saturday night, wow.”

I ask him to talk us through his goal. “I just knew I had only one touch to steady myself. The angle was quite tight still but thankfully I hit it right. We were flying, 2-0 up and playing really well. I honestly thought we’d go on and get 4. That corner they scored took the wind out of us a bit but I thought we were playing really well. We deserved the win against a pretty good team. The celebration at the end was perfect too. I’ve never been with a team before that is so connected. It’s ok if a team isn’t, you sometimes can’t like everyone but that really isn’t the case here. We are definitely a great group.”

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An Idiot Abroad

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