VALENTIN EYES BODO/GLIMT PROMOTION
When Zarek Valentin joined Bodø/Glimt on loan from the Montreal Impact in April, the right back knew that the team had a good chance at earning promotion, but he didn't foresee this much success.
Bodø/Glimt is running away with the Adeccoligaen this season, currently holding 12 point lead over second place with 11 matches to go, and Valentin and Co. have the best goal differential in the league (28) thanks in large part to the league's most prolific offense with 43 goals scored and the best defense with 15 goals allowed.
The dominance has even Valentin in shock.
"I heard good things, but I never expected us to do as well as we have been doing, especially being in the position we are now," Valentin told YA. "If someone would have told me that, I would have said, ‘No way.'"
Not only has Bodø/Glimt thrived this season, but Valentin has had one of his best seasons since leaving the University of Akron and becoming a professional soccer player in 2011.
The Lancaster, Pa., native has started all but one match for Glimt and is well on his way to eclipsing his best appearance mark of 25 set with Chivas USA in 2011. He's also recorded four assists - two in league play and two in the Norwegian Cup - to set a new career mark.
Local media haven't overlooked Valentin's play for Glimt, as Avisa Nordland has given the 22 year old just one rating below a 5 on a 1-to-10 scale.
Valentin was quick to attribute his personal success to the trust that coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen has shown in him. Halvorsen allows the Akron product to maraud forward from the back line, as long as Valentin doesn't skimp out on his defensive duties.
"It's funny how with a change of scenery, certain players can either blossom or take a positive or negative route," Valentin said. "I think this has really been good for me. I think that I've kind of come into my own and really become comfortable with the type of player am I."
His performances this season have come at an important time for Valentin. The right back is in the final year of his contract with the Impact, and he said that he's open to either returning to MLS at season's end or staying in Norway with Bodø/Glimt, which, Valentin said, has expressed interest in him staying on past his season-long loan spell.
Valentin isn't looking at his team situation past this season, although he said that recognizes that he has some thinking to do once the end of the Adeccoligaen comes. Instead, he's just going to worry about his performance on the field and let the contract situation sort itself out from there.
"If I go back to Montreal or whatever happens, a better player will be returning," Valentin said. "It's just a matter of figuring out details when that point comes."
What will make the decision more or less difficult is whether or not Bodø/Glimt finishes out the season strong and earns the elusive promotion to the Tippeligaen. Glimt hasn't participated in the Norwegian top division since 2009, and last season, it fell short of promotion by losing in the second round of the promotion playoffs.
With this in mind, Valentin and his teammates aren't going to take it easy, although no signs are showing of an epic collapse. The team is riding a 10-match winning streak and 15-match unbeaten streak going into this Sunday's match against Mjøndalen.
"We look at every game as a step closer, and I think that this team has been through a lot of struggles in the past and they don't want to count their eggs before they hatch," Valentin said. "It sounds corny, but I think we have a good group that doesn't want to get too ahead of ourselves."
If Bodø/Glimt does earn promotion, then Valentin said that the team could help him with his ultimate goal of donning a United States national team jersey in the future.
He knows that he's still got a ways to go, but if he and Bodø/Glimt were to perform well in the Tippeligaen in the future, he could follow players like Mikkel Diskerud and Josh Gatt, whose teams are on the top of the standings and have individually played well, to force his way into the U.S. national team picture.
No matter the outcome of this season, however, Valentin said he will find it to be a success and hopes that leads to bigger and better things.
"I try to see this as a stepping stone in a positive way," Valentin said. "I don't know how far off I am, but I hope to one day look back and say, ‘Going to Norway was a great thing for me because it help lead me to a World Cup' or whatever it might be."