NORWEGIAN SEASON PREVIEW
RECAPS
EXTRA TIME
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
The weather is still very cold up near the Arctic Circle but that has not stopped Norway from kicking off its 2011 campaign.

As so often happens before every Norwegian season, there has been a reshuffling of Americans who plan to play in the Nordic country's top two flights.

Gone are yanks Hunter Freeman and Clay Goodson who spent the last two years together at Eliteserien club IK Start. After three seasons in Kristiansand, Goodson moved on to Danish club Brondby while Freeman returned home to his native Texas to play with the Houston Dynamo.

Also departing Norway was Graham Dugoni who spent the second half of the 2010 season with 1. Division club Mjondalen.

New arrivals include Sean Cunningham and Josh Gatt who signed with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Molde in the Eliteserien, plus Rhett Bernstein and Kyle Helton who signed with the aforementioned Mjondalen and Jonathan Borrajo who joined HamKam.

What is apparent this year for the Norway YAs is that promotion will be at stake for various players including Colin Burns' Sandefjord and the Honefoss duo of Steve Clark and Kenneth Di Vita Jensen.

Meanwhile US national team midfielder Mikkel Diskerud would like nothing better than to lead Stabaek to another top three finish and a spot in European play.

Eliteserien

Stabaek
Mikkel Diskerud

Last Season: Finished 12th, Elitserien

2011 Outlook
The offseason for Diskerud will be best remembered for his two performances with the US national team where he assisted on Juan Agudelo's goal in the US' 1-0 November triumph over South Africa. Two months later Diskerud was called again by head coach Bob Bradley where he performed ably against Chile in a January friendly.

Now the attacking midfielder's thoughts turn to the 2011 Eliteserien which could very well be a breakout season for Diskerud. The 20 year old dual citizen was a regular starter last year for the first time with the Stabaek senior team and should receive the same attention this season.

What Diskerud and company hope to avoid is another disappointing finish. After winning the 2008 Eliteserien and finishing third in 2009, the Baerum-based club struggled from the outset in 2010 and never managed put together a solid winning streak.

Long-time coach Jan Jonsson has departed and in his place is Swede Jorgen Lennartsson who spent the previous five seasons coaching Sweden's Under-21 team.

Familiar faces Veigar Pall Gunnarsson, Palmi Rafn Palmson and Pontus Farnerud still anchor the squad, but make no mistake, in order for Stabaek to experience success, Diskerud will have to play an integral role.

Taking away this past weekend's season opening 0-7 home loss to Lillestrom, Stabaek can still expect to compete toe to toe with two-time defending champions Rosenborg and Valerenga.

Diskerud says

"We want to stay as far away from relegation as possible, yet play the most entertaining style of soccer, especially since the club is facing tough economic challenges. We are going to have fun, and let our audience experience the same, and go home with smiles on their faces - no matter what."

Yanks Abroad Prediction

Stabaek return to the top half of the standings and challenge for a European berth.

Molde
Josh Gatt ; Sean Cunningham

Last Season: Finished 11th, Eliteserien

2011 Outlook
Much was expected of Molde in 2010 after a second place finish in 2009, but that was hardly the case as the club limped to a 11th place finish. An opening round loss to Rosenborg pretty much set the tone and Molde spent much of the season either in the relegation zone or teetering close to it.

Enter a new man in charge in the form of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who was named coach during the winter offseason. The former Manchester United legend is tasked with turning around the club's fortunes after spending two years coaching the United reserve squad.

Part of Solskjaer's rebuilding process including the signing of young Americans Sean Cunningham and Josh Gatt. Of the two, Gatt is expected to have more chances to see the field with Cunningham likely spending a fair amount of time with the Molde II team.

Gatt's success in Austria coupled with his play for the US Under-20 team make him an intriguing option to possibly come off the bench and spell the likes of Davy Claude Angan or Makhtar Thioune.

Yanks Abroad Prediction

The fans at Aker Stadion will see some improvement, but it won't be enough to compete with the ranks of Rosenborg and Valerenga. An eighth place finish sounds reasonable.

Sogndal
Joseph Bendik

Last Season: First, 1. Division (Promoted)

2011 Outlook

For the first time since 2004 Sogndal will be playing in Norway's highest flight after receiving automatic promotion for winning the 2010 1. Division.

A major contributor to that run was forward Espen Olsen who scored 12 times in league competition last year. Olsen is back and will be joined by 33 year old midfielder Eirik Bakke who spent last season in Bergen with Brann. The former Leeds United man should provide veteran leadership on a squad that will experience bumps and bruises throughout the season.

American goalkeeper Joseph Bendik is expected to be the starter after mainly serving as a backup last season. However Bendik did start the team's final four matches which should provide some confidence.

Bendik says

"Over the course of preseason we have really started to gel as a team, and show that we are ready for the start of the season. Although it will be tough for Sogndal as a team, I think we have what it takes as far as effort, skill, and passion to stay up at the end of the year."

Yanks Abroad Prediction

Staying up will be a very big challenge for Sogndal, as it is for any club recently promoted from the 1. Division. The buzz out of La Manga, Spain where all Norwegian clubs conduct part of their preseason training is that Fredrikstad is the team best-positioned to stay up among the three promoted teams leaving Sogndal and Sarpsborg to fight things out. The forecast is also bleak for Brann this season and a dip from Viking might not surprise people as well. But in the end, the burden of staying up will prove to be too much for a Sogndal club that is already a bit thin. Bendik will do his best, but it will not be enough. 15th and relegation back to the 1. Division.

1. Division

Honefoss
Steve Clark, Kenneth Di Vita Jensen

Last Season: 14th, Eliteserien (Relegated following defeat in playoff to Fredrikstad)

2011 Outlook

The final weeks of Honefoss' 2010 season were ones to forget as the club finished in 14th spot and were subsequently humiliated by Fredrikstad in the playoff. That defeat led to a mountain of change at the club leaving Americans Steve Clark and Kenneth Di Vita Jensen around many new fresh faces this season.

After serving as a backup last season, Clark won the starting goalkeeper position this season and is primed to have a solid season. Di Vita Jensen started seeing action in the second half of last season and scored three goals. Another season under his belt should help the 20 year old dual citizen who will certainly challenge for a spot on opening day.

As for new arrivals and recent departures, the club signed a pair of gritty defensive players in Helge Haugen and Kevin Larsen whom spent last season a Tromso, one of the Eliteserien's most stingy teams in 2010. As for players who moved on to other destinations, this list is a fairly long one. The club elected to not re-sign Kamal Saaliti, Benny Olsen and Madiou Konate while Omar Bangura signed with Haugesund and Davy Claude Angan was bought by Molde.

Clark says

"Honefoss will be promoted this year if we defend well."

Yanks Abroad Prediction

The additions of Haugen and Larsen will be instrumental to Honefoss' success as will the play of Clark in net. First and automatic promotion.

Sandefjord
Colin Burns

Last Season: 16th, Eliteserien (Relegated to 1. Division)

2011 Outlook

2010 could not have been any worse for Sandefjord who won all of two matches during the entire season and finished with a paltry 12 points.

Many expected Irish head coach Patrick Walker to receive his walking papers but instead the club has stuck by the coach who guided Sandefjord to automatic promotion to the Eliteserien in 2008 followed by a plucky eighth place finish in 2009.

Now Walker is tasked again with getting Sandefjord back to the Eliteserien. The squad is young but there is talent in the form of Gambian international Ebrima Sohna and former Norwegian youth international Fredrik Gulsvik who already has 14 Eliteserien goals to his credit at the spry young age of 21.

Burns says

"We are looking very good this preseason. We have a few new additions to the team and will have one of the most experienced rosters in the league. Our only goal this season is promotion. We've proved it in the past that we can go down and come right back up so we hope to do it again."

Yanks Abroad Prediction

Sandefjord can expect plenty of competition from Honefoss and Kongsvinger this season for the two automatic promotion spots. Defensively, they are not as solid as Honefoss or as attacking-minded as Kongsvinger, but having a wise head coach like Walker will pay dividends. Third place and promotion through playoff.

HamKam
Jonathan Borrajo

Last Season: First, 2. Division Group Four (Promoted to 1. Division)

2011 Outlook
When a team makes headlines in the Norwegian press during the winter months, that's usually an inauspicious sign. For HamKam, who earned promotion from the 2. Division, word leaked out in December that there were money problems and that the club was seeking investors in order to operate during the 2011 season.

Apparently some money was brought in but like what we saw at FC Lyn last season, a financial crisis can exact a toll and the fear is that will happen to HamKam this season.

It was a rather unceremonious fall from grace for HamKam who were in the Eliteserien as recently as 2008 before dropping down to the 1. Division in 2009 and then falling further to the 2. Division for 2010. The chances at staying up will be slim, but sometimes a group of players cobbled together can work, and American Jonathan Borrajo hopes to be part of that cinderella story.

Yanks Abroad Prediction

HamKam will be fighting to stay above 13th place all season. Relegation looks likely. 14th.

Mjondalen
Rhett Bernstein, Kyle Helton

Last Season: 10th, 1. Division

2011 Outlook

After narrowly escaping relegation last season thanks in part to the play of American defender Graham Dugoni, Mjondalen return for another season in the 1. Division.

This year's squad is another young one so the impetus will be on 33 year old midfielder Stian Ohr to provide some leadership on a rather green roster.

Two young players joining this year's team are Americans Kyle Helton and Rhett Bernstein who have been brought in to shore up the team's backline. The duo will likely be kept busy as other teams in the 1. Division will be looking to attack Mjondalen all season long.

Bernstein says

"We can move the ball very well, and we are definitely capable of exceeding expectations with our passing play. Defensively, we are getting better and better. It's a young backline, and in general, a young team, but we're working hard on getting things right."

Yanks Abroad Prediction

Since earning promotion from the 2. Division after the 2008 season, Mjondalen have finished 11th and then 10th the next two seasons. Progress will be made but not enough for a shot at the playoffs. Eighth.
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