Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The 2009 Eliteserien has come to a close for IK Start's Hunter Freeman who is already aiming towards a healthier and more productive 2010.
Freeman started on the back line for head coach Knut Torum nearly all season long in helping the newly-promoted club finish in a respectable ninth place position in the league standings.
Yet when the native of Tyler, Texas looks back on this past year's campaign, he feels that an injury he sustained in the first month of the season hindered his ability to further help the team.
"I injured my ankle in about the fourth game of the season so it has been bothering me pretty much the entire season," Freeman recently told YA. "I just decided to gut it out but it was painful. It caused me to miss practices so I could let it heal for games. I just had to go through the season dealing with it."
After the season finale on November 1st, Freeman returned to the US where he underwent successful surgery on his injured ankle. The list of repairs that doctors had to do on the former University of Virginia standout is enough to make anyone cringe.
"I had some ligament damage, torn cartilage and bone spurs that all needed to be operated on," Freeman said of the surgery.
Now the ex-Colorado Rapid enters an offseason with a cast on his foot to allow his injury to properly heal before beginning his preparation for the 2010 Eliteserien.
When looking back on his first year of playing professionally in Europe, Freeman is left to wonder how much better of a player he could have been without being slowed by his ankle.
"Personally, it was a great experience," he recalled. "We got off to a great start but then I got injured and not being 100% meant I lost a lot of my explosiveness and speed. As a defender you need to have that and I had difficulty keeping up with pacy wingers and forwards. Mentally, that was very tough and frustrating."
Despite the challenges of playing hurt with a newly promoted club, Freeman and Start stayed in the top half of the league standings the bulk of the season and even made a run towards a Europa League berth before falling back towards the middle of the table during the fall.
The former Cavalier believes that the experience acquired during the 2009 campaign will carry over into next year and hopes that the club will add some more depth to the squad this offseason.
"We need to be more consistent," noted Freeman. "This year has been a good learning experience and we have to carry that experience into next year. We're a young team with a good nucleus and no one is out of contract which is good. Our roster is thin in some spots like center back and left midfielder. It really cost us in some games when some guys were away on international duty. Up top with our forwards can also be improved and should be a priority. Adding more depth will push players to improve at their positions."
Perhaps one of the best learning experiences for Torum's squad came on the field last month when Start took down newly-crowned league champions Rosenborg in Trondheim, which ended up being the league winners' only defeat for the entire season.
Freeman likes to point at that upset victory as a perfect example of what Start is capable of achieving when they come together as a single unit and play their style of soccer.
"We had been struggling entering that game so there was no pressure on us. It presented a great opportunity for us to go back to playing the way we are capable of playing. We showed great character from coming back a goal down twice and then just found a way in the end to get it done. We were the only team to beat RBK and we did it on their field. We now just have to use that as a positive," he surmised.
Start won the match 2-3 with an ending that will go down in Norwegian soccer lore as one of the most controversial moments in the last decade. Torum's squad won it with a Cristian Bolanos penalty kick in stoppage time that came as a result of a Rade Prica foul on Freeman's teammate and fellow American Clay Goodson in the Rosenborg penalty area.
The referee whistled for the foul and immediately pointed to the spot despite the vehement protests from the home team's players. Bolanos converted the penalty and spoiled Rosenborg's perfect season.
Controversy reigned that following week as some Rosenborg players and Norwegian media members said that Goodson unnecessarily flopped when pushed by Prica, a notion that the Lone Star State resident disputes.
"I don't see anything wrong with the call. He [the referee] really had no other choice but to call the foul. Any player in Clay's position would have done the same thing. I guarantee that if one of our guys had pushed one of their players in our penalty area, they would have gotten the same call," Freeman concluded.
Freeman started in 27 matches this season for Start and scored one goal. He went the full 90 minutes in all but one of the matches.