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March 24, 2016

Roland Alberg: The Philadelphia Union made me feel welcome

Soccer Union
032416_Alberg_PU Courtesy of the Philadelphia Union/for PhillyVoice

Midfielder Roland Alberg, right, says its an honor to play for the Union.

When you listen to Roland Alberg speak, you'd think he had been living in the United States for more than five weeks.

The new Union midfielder has spent all but six months of his life in his native Netherlands, but his English is strong enough to communicate with fans and media without the need for a translator.

We didn't know much about Alberg when he signed for the Union in February. He's a 25-year-old attacking mid who played for Excelsior and ADO Den Haag, with a brief trip to Turkey in between. He came up through the AZ Alkmaar youth ranks, where he first met Union sporting director Earnie Stewart. His brother, Ibad Muhamadu, also played professionally and even had a short spell with the pre-MLS Portland Timbers.

Alberg started the season on the bench but got his first Union start in Sunday's 3-0 win. He played 57 minutes in the #10 role and took the red-card foul that saw New England go down to 10-men. It was a decent shift that gave us a glimpse of his capabilites.

Philly Voice spoke with Alberg during the Union's bye week.

Philly Voice: How did you end up in Philadelphia, and why come here?

Roland Alberg: Why come over? Well, first of all, I had some wonderful years in Holland. But I think it was time for me to start a new chapter in my life and a new moment in my career. I heard about interest from Philadelphia. Of course, it's an honor for me to play here. When I came here the first time, Earnie (Stewart) was very good to me. He introduced me to the coach, he introduced me to the staff and everybody else. That was my first, how do you say it...

Philly Voice: It was your first experience?

Alberg: Yeah, it was my first experience with the club. Then we went into the city to look around and get some ideas. But it was a warm welcome from Earnie and from the coach, from Jim. But also it was a new team and I'm motivated to win and get into the playoffs and win the championship. Why not? We have a good team this year with many good players, from defenders, to the goalkeepers, to the midfielders and forwards. It was a decision I made with my girlfriend and my family, which was important. It was hard for them, because the U.S.A. is not the closest country (laughs). But we made the decision together and they're behind me. That's why I'm here.

Philly Voice: Is your girlfriend still in Holland, or did she come over with you?

Alberg: She's actually already been here for a month. She's going to stay with me for three months, then she'll go back for her visa. I'm happy to have her here. She can help me, and that's the most important thing I think.

Philly Voice: Had you ever been to the United States before?

Alberg: Yea, I had been to New York with my girlfriend. That was the only time.

Philly Voice: Was there interest in coming specifically to America, maybe the culture here or just experiencing a new country? What did you know about Major League Soccer?

Alberg: I saw, sometimes I watched the highlights of the games. It's very tough, very hard. There are some big names at the big teams, but I don't think that's the most important thing. I think we have a young team. They're motivated and they want to win at everything, whether it's on the training field, or the preseason, or in the (regular season). I like the way they motivate each other, that's my opinion on everything.

Philly Voice: Did you have other offers in Europe?

Alberg: Yeah, but I didn't have a good feeling about that. I got offers from different clubs but I never spoke to the coach or spoke to (anyone else) at the team. This was my best.. how would you say, feeling?

Philly Voice: They made you feel welcome?

Alberg: Yeah, Philadelphia made me feel welcome. And of course I knew Earnie Stewart from AZ Alkmaar and that really was the final piece. It's good. The city is good. So far, so good. I like it.

Philly Voice: You were in the Alkmaar youth system. Is that when you first met Earnie?

Alberg: Yes. I think it was.. I played there nine years, so I think maybe in that eighth or ninth year I met Earnie.

Philly Voice: What kind of person is Earnie?

Alberg: Well, first, he's a former player. His philosophy, the way he thinks, the way he wants things to be, that's why I like him. I spoke to some players here and they said his philosophy is very important. For example, now the players get suits. In years past, they never got something like that. Earnie likes for everybody to have the same things, he wants everything to be.. how do you say it..

Philly Voice: He wants everybody to be on the same page.

Alberg: Yes, on the same page. It's a team process. It's everybody at the same level, not just one person wears this, and one person wears that. He wants everyone to be a professional, every day, every training session, every game. There's more.. (pause)

Philly Voice: It seems like there's more structure.

Alberg: Yeah. Day by day, week by week, it's going to be more (structured). I speak to him sometimes. It's easier for me to speak with him in Dutch, but yeah, like I said, he and Jim, the first time they flew me over here, it just felt like the total package.

Philly Voice: Are you living in the city?

Alberg: Yeah, I'm near the city.

Philly Voice: Have you been able to walk around and see some of the sights?

Alberg: Yeah, every day.

Philly Voice: Do you like the city?

Alberg: Oh yea. The food is very good. It's a good city. I've been able to do some of the tourist things.

Philly Voice: Did you see the Liberty Bell?

Alberg: Yeah! It's a small thing (laughs). But it's good.

Philly Voice: Did you know anything about American sports, like baseball, or football?

Alberg: A couple weeks ago I went to a Sixers game. I think it was against Charlotte. It was fun; I went with a couple of players. That was my first NBA game and I liked that. Baseball, I haven't been to yet, and I haven't been to see ice hockey yet but that will come.

Philly Voice: Do you understand the rules?

Alberg: No (laughs). I only know the three points and two points (Alberg gestures as if he's shooting a basketball). Other than that, I don't understand. But I'm going to learn.