MEGHAN BRENNAN - Friday, March 12, 2010
The 2010 Eliteserien kicks off this weekend with Start's American duo of Clay Goodson and Hunter Freeman hosting Sandefjord while Mikkel Diskerud and Erik Benjaminsen's Stabaek travel to Odd.
Start - Sandefjord
Defenders Clay Goodson and Hunter Freeman will begin their 2010 season at home in Kristiansand when they welcome in Sandefjord to Sor Arena on Sunday.
Goodson will assume his normal starting spot in the back for head coach Knut Torum while it remains to be seen whether or not Freeman will be penciled into the starting 11.
The native Texan had offseason ankle injury and only recently returned to the field during the club's preseason.
Start will need a big season from Freeman should they aspire to be contenders for the league championship, but up front, the hosts are loaded with Costa Rican Christian Bolanos, Espen Borufsen and young Mads Stokkelien leading the charge.
Sunday's match will be an important one for Torum's squad as a visit the following weekend to Trondheim to take on defending league champions Rosenborg places an even greater importance on securing three points versus Sunday's visitors.
Sandefjord are directed by Irish coach Patrick Walker who led the club to a surprising ninth place finish last season.
Many Norwegian media pundits predicted Sandefjord to be relegated last season, but Walker was able to summon the best from his squad week in and week out with efficient goalscoring and solid defending.
Start will likely be without defensive midfielder Petter Hanssen who is out recovering from knee surgery while Sandefjord will not have the services of striker Malik Manes, defender Alexander Gabrielsen and forward Eirik Andre.
Odd - Stabaek
Stabæk midfielder Mikkel Diskerud is one of the few players not plagued by injury and will be ready for the season opener against Odd Grenland this Sunday at Skagerak Arena.
Diskerud's compatriot, Erik Benjaminsen, has seen some action with the Stabaek first time during the winter season and could very well make his debut this weekend coming off the bench as a substitute in the second half.
The 2010 preseason left three of Stabæk's starters, goalkeeper Jon Knudsen, striker Daniel Nannskog and midfielder Pontus Farnerud riddled with injuries during a friendly versus Molde back on March 7th.
Both Knudsen and Nannskog complained of muscle pain in their thigh, while Farnerud suffered from potential ligament damage in his ankle.
All three are question marks for Sunday's game, in addition to defender Jon Inge Høiland. Høiland, out all winter, will be sidelined for the opener.
If Stabæk's overall health is grim, Odd Grenland's is dire in net. Icelandic keeper, Árni Arason exited his country's national team game versus Cyprus back on March 3rd with pain in his shoulder. To literally add insult to injury, back up goalie Dag Ole Thomassen is out with a nagging back problem.
Injuries aside, the two clubs should engage in an offensive matchup pitting last year's third and fourth place finishers in the Eliteserien.
While Odd Grenland has home field advantage, the air inside Skagerak Arena smells sweetly of Stabæk success as they defeated Odd Grenland 2-1 during their last visit in September of last year . A previous meeting at Telenor Arena ended in a 3-3 tie.
Steve Clark will be on the bench as the backup goalkeeper for Honefoss who travel up north to Tromso.
Goalkeepers Tyrel Lacey and Colin Burns do not begin their 1. Division seasons with FC Lyn and Sarpsborg until April 10th.