Erik Sviatchenko knows a thing or two about collecting trophies.
He’s won 11 of them during his 15-year career.
So, if his Houston Dynamo teammates need any advice about winning medals, especially in Cup competitions, they can always talk to the Danish center-back ahead of Wednesday's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final at Inter Miami CF.
If the Dynamo triumph at DRV PNK Stadium, Sviatchenko would secure his sixth Cup-winners medal in three countries. He was a member of Celtic's Scottish Cup-winning team in 2016-17 and the Scottish League Cup sides the same year and again in 2017-18. He also played a vital role for FC Midtjylland when they captured the Danish Cup in his native Denmark in 2018-19 and 2021-22.
"That would be amazing," he told usopencup.com about the potential of winning another one. "I have been fortunate and good enough to be in teams that have been in situations where we can win trophies. I collect trophies, I collect memories.
“It would be an amazing start to my Dynamo time after only six months,” added the defender.
Wanting it All
" I want it all. I want to win it. It will be amazing to have that success with all the new teammates in the squad because it's been a big shift since January with a lot of new players [arriving at the club],” he said. “We are bonded in some way because we achieved something, getting to a Final.
“That's a good step towards getting to be a really good team instead of just an average team,” he went on. “We can become great at something. That's why the Final is something we’re very keen on winning."
For any player, winning any competition – league or Cup, is special. But Sviatchenko’s first, a 3-0 win over Aberdeen in the Scottish League Cup Final in November of 2016, stands out for obvious reasons.
"It was a massive thing in regard to playing at a huge club like Celtic with such a big fan base," Sviatchenko said. "We celebrated it together. A trophy is always the end goal of all the hard work you put in in a season or those games that get you to the Final. It’s a thing that I'll always reflect upon, as some of the great memories in my career."
Win or lose on Wednesday, Sviatchenko and his teammates will get another memory to reflect upon. The veteran center-back called Inter Miami "the team that is the talk of the town, with Lionel Messi of course, as the headline. That's the cherry on the top."
Up against the Goat
Messi and Miami aim to grab their second Cup competition in 39 days, having won the inaugural Leagues Cup back in August. The Dynamo – on the other hand – snagged the 2018 Open Cup.
"It's going to be a great challenge," Sviatchenko said. "I’m fortunate enough and good enough to have played against him in the [UEFA] Champions League."
That was in 2016. Barcelona defeated Celtic in both legs (7-0 and 2-0). Messi recorded a hat-trick at home, scoring three minutes after the opening kickoff.
"That kind of star-struck-ness, I probably won't have because I already played against him," Sviatchenko said. "He probably won't know me or remember me but I for sure remember him. It's going to be great to go up against the best player that has been in this profession."
Messi was in his prime at the time. Whatever the Argentine National Team captain might have lost since then, the 36-year-old still manages to produce magic when it’s needed most for his new team.
While Messi is best known for his goal-scoring capabilities, his ability to read the game and find teammates in dangerous goal-scoring positions is second to none.
Can’t Switch Off
"If you look at Messi's numbers, it's not only goals. It’s also an incredible amount of assists," Sviatchenko said. "The thing that I have learned playing at the highest level and playing against the best players in the world is the level of concentration that you put upon yourself throughout 90 minutes.
“You are not allowed to switch off against players like that,” he added.
"Every time you're in a situation where you think something might happen, you need to anticipate that it's going to happen, and already be at that position,” he said. “Players like Messi are really good at knowing when to put that knife in.
“That can be minute-one or minute 89,” he added. “That's why the concentration level from everyone has to be spotless."
Sviatchenko is quite fortunate. He discovered the two big loves of his life early on -- soccer and his wife, Anne, a soccer player who also played professionally and internationally.
The couple met as teenagers through Sviatchenko‘s twin sister, Alexandra. "We were starting to hang out a little bit," he said. "We were young and fell in love when we were 14-15. Very young."
They had something in common. They played the beautiful game – and both for FC Midtjylland.
A Soccer Partnership
"We were growing together as two football players," Sviatchenko said.
Anne played for Denmark at the 2008 Women’s Under-17 World Cup finals, losing to champions North Korea in the Quarterfinals. She also helped the Danes finish third in the U-17 European Championship that same year. Anne also competed professional for VSK Aarhus in Sweden.
Sviatchenko, who made his international debut in a 3-2 friendly win over the U.S. on March 25, 2015, has lined up five times for Denmark. When Sviatchenko joined Celtic in 2016, Anne, who was pregnant with their first child, signed with the club's women's team.
The 6-foot, 180-lb. defender said that he was fortunate to have someone who understood a players’ trials and tribulations as his best friend. "[It helps] When you have a girlfriend and later a wife that that knows that it's very up and down," he said. "Football is very emotional. You're in a profession where one week you can be the hero and the next week you can be the villain.
The couple have two children, William (7) and Clara (4).
Sviatchenko said that when he was given the opportunity to join the Dynamo, “she wasn't in doubt” and “she was there to support.”
New Dawn with Houston Dynamo
Regardless of what shakes out on Wednesday, Sviatchenko hopes to have another opportunity to secure another prize down the road -- the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Entering this weekend's action, the Dynamo are closing in on a Western Conference berth. Houston (12-10-7, 43 points) are two points out of second place.
"I came six months ago, and I feel like I've been here for more than six months because there have been so many different games," Sviatchenko said. "So many different highs and lows. The last couple of months have been on an upgoing arrow of us playing better defensively much more structured.
“We are one of the teams in MLS that is in the best shape,” he added.
“We're not talked much about,” he admitted. “It's maybe not so interesting to talk about Houston Dynamo, as it is to talk about all the other teams and we're fine with that.
“We don't need much attention because we’re doing everything we can to be the best as we can,” said Sviatchenko, just days away from a chance to win yet another Cup in another country It's about winning games and that's what we've been doing. We're in a really good spot."
Michael Lewis can be reached on X/Twitter at @SoccerWriter and @SoccerWriter1 on Instagram.