KENYA BROWN - Thursday, September 10, 2015
From playing as a reserve in Major League Soccer to becoming one of the key players in an overachieving Stabaek side, it's safe to say Cole Grossman is enjoying his time in Norway.
After a ninth place finish in the 2014 Tippeligaen season, Stabaek went through many personnel changes in the offseason. Gone were the likes of American midfielders Michael Stephens and Andrew Jacobson, who made a solid pairing for the team, and in came Grossman, who had only played a handful of games for the Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake in four MLS seasons, to fill the void.
Despite the massive overhaul, the Blue Ones are once again exceeding the expectations of the critics, and on an individual note, the St. Louis, Missouri native has found himself to be an indispensible member of the team as his performances on the field have gained much attention.
It's not easy for some players to fit in so quickly at a new team, but Grossman has made a smooth adjustment to his new surroundings and speaks highly of his time in Norway thus far as Stabaek makes a push for the league title.
"I've enjoyed playing in the Tippeligaen so far. It is a good league and in some ways it is similar to MLS. It is very physical and athletic. Matches are very competitive," he told Yanks Abroad. "We were actually predicted to finish lower than mid-table. I think one newspaper picked us to finish last. So our season has been a big surprise to a lot of people in Norway. We've added some really good players since those predictions were made, but we've also improved so much over the season. We have really good balance in the team. We are organized and we know exactly who we are."
After his contract ran out with Real Salt Lake at the end of 2014 MLS season, the 26-year-old midfielder was not only looking to sign for another team, but also a chance to show that he could contribute from the start. That opportunity would come when Stabaek head coach Bob Bradley brought Grossman in for a tryout.
While Grossman could have remained in MLS with any team and continue his role as a reserve, the chance to play in Europe and show off his talents was just too tempting of an opportunity to pass up and he signed a contract with Stabaek after his successful tryout.
Since signing his contract with Stabaek, Grossman has not had one minute to rest as week in and week out he has been in the starting lineup. You won't hear him complain one bit about playing too much as he has seen more action on the field with Stabaek than he did with his previous two teams in MLS.
"A big part of the reason I came to Stabaek was to play every week. I've started 21 games this year, and, more than anything else, it has just been a great time," said Grossman. Because I was a reserve for so long in MLS, I will never take the game for granted. I love playing soccer, and I love being able to be a starter on a good team."
"Winning obviously makes everything much better, but being an important player again is something that I've wanted for a long time. I've scored a few goals and I think that I've improved a lot throughout the year. We have nine games left, and hopefully I will be able to play my best as we finish the season."
The former Duke Blue Devil has certainly played well in his time with Stabaek, starting all but one game and scoring four goals. He has also helped the team improve its place in the standings this season where they are currently in second place on 44 points - eight points behind league leaders Rosenborg. They are also once again in the semifinals of the Norwegian Cup and will face the Troll Kids later in September for a place in the final.
While the team is credited for their performance on the field, a lot their success has to do with the coaching of Bradley who has had to work on a minimal budget to put together a competitive team. Grossman sees firsthand how much work the former U.S. national coach puts into his job and has a great deal of respect for the tactician.
"To me, Bob is one of the best coaches in the world. I have only played for American coaches, but I doubt there are many better coaches in world football than Bob. He is demanding and has high standards, but he is also fair and the players on our team love playing for him. He has built a winning culture at Stabaek," said Grossman. "We know exactly who we are tactically. We are prepared and have a strong plan for every game. I think that we are tough to play against. But Bob has also done an incredible job at coaching and developing individual players, particularly our young players. He coaches and teaches every player on the team. Guys on our team have improved this season in almost miraculous ways. It has been very cool for me to be a part of this."
As for the coach, he couldn't be more than happy with Grossman's contributions and performances for Stabaek this season.
"Cole has played an important role for Stabaek this year," said Bradley. "He's a smart player who works hard and does many of the little things that really help a team. Cole adjusted quickly to Tippeligaen and has improved throughout the season. In addition to his solid defensive work in the midfield, he has pitched in with some important goals."
With only a few games left in the season and Stabaek still within a reasonable shot of catching Rosenborg for the league title, what can the team do to put more pressure on the league leaders? According to Grossman, it will take some results falling their way for them to take their title challenge to the end.
"Rosenborg is a very, very good team. Experienced, strong, disciplined, organized, dynamic. We will need them to drop some points if we want to catch them. But we play them in September, which is a huge opportunity for us," he said.
As for any personal goals Grossman has ahead of the season's end, it is strictly the team that he is focused on.
"My goals are all team related. We want to win as many games as possible and stay as close to Rosenberg as we can. We also play Rosenberg in the semifinals of the Cup, which is a very big tournament in Norway. To win the Cup would be an incredible achievement, and I really want to be a part of that."