NORWAY SEASON PREVIEW
With six Americans spread across six teams in the top two flights, YA has attempted to get a glimpse into what's in store for our Norway-based Yanks.
Despite seeing Tippeligaen sides fail in bids for US internationals Edson Buddle, Jimmy Conrad and Taylor Twellman, 2007 will see a lot of change for the American scene in Norway.
We had our say too, though, and as with 23 Tickets and other features, we've made a prediction on each team as we see it happening over the next seven months...
: Runners up and promotion winners, Adeccoligaen
: Joakim Alexandersson (Elfsborg IF), Enar Jaagar (Torpedo Moscow), Benjamin Kibebe (Tromsø IL), Magnus Kihlberg (IFK Gøteborg) Mathias Nylund (GIF Sundsvall), Jonathan Parr (FC Lyn), Denis Selimovic (NK Primorje)
: Tore Andreas Gundersen (Lillestrøm SK), Christian Negouai (FC Brussels)
Give the board credit: they moved up, so they sought personnel improvements up-and-down the field in the offseason. Kibebe and Nylund arrive to solidify the backline, veteran midfielder Kihlberg steps in immediately as captain and young legs have been added to attack.
The Tangoshirts like to play up-tempo games, which will keep Brown busy, but he's no stranger to this level. Expect AaFK to be just below the league scoring leaders, with returnees Tor Hogne Aarøy, Dedé Andersson, Joakim Austnes and Dag Roar Orsal eager to show they can frighten any Norwegian defense on most days.
Brown will keep them in games when they're not playing well, but AaFK will probably do well to finish in the better half of the Tippeligaen standings. Royal League flirtation is possible if they can make Color Line Stadion a fortress, but the finishers may still be too streaky for a top four place.
In any event, it seems highly unlikely that Aalesund will need to worry much about the relegation fray as the season winds down. The simple act of staying up this season should be reward enough as the club attempt to shed their yo-yo club image and take up permanent Tippeligaen residence.
"I think we've had some really good (preseason) results. It was important to go out and score some new players (for our promotion campaign). Things are going good. It's pretty much the same system as last year."
"It's a long season, and we don't want to burn out too early. I think we had a problem with that last season. We started great, then weren't really getting the results we wanted at the end of the year. That's the one thing we are really working on, to be consistent throughout the whole season."
Runners up, Tippeligaen
Ramiro Corrales (Ham-Kam), Tijan Jaiteh (Gambia Ports Authority FC), Jan Gunnar Solli (Rosenborg)
Martin Knudsen (Tromsø IL), Charlie Miller (Lierse SK), Kristian Ystaas (Notodden)
Brann were contenders before they acquired Corrales and Gunnar Solli to power up their flanks. With title rivals IK Start and Rosenborg each experiencing large turnover, the Pride of Bergen are arguably the new favorites.
Most of last year's crew is back, including Norway internationals Eirik Bakke and Bengt Sæternes. Adding another in Gunnar Solli solidifies the right side, while the arrival of Corrales builds up the left. The team's strong midfield should allow them to both raise their goal total and concede fewer.
The club was disappointed in their away play last term, especially down the stretch. If they can improve by even three or four better road results, the championship should be within their reach.
The Tippeligaen is wide open for the taking, but Brann are not the only team with realistic designs on the crown. This looks set to be a bumpy roller coaster ride to the finish line; Corrales & Co. might just have the smoothest car, when intact.
Barring massive injury troubles, look for Brann to claim their second title in four years. Even if a mild disaster hits, they should be deep enough to finish in the top four.
: eighth place, Tippeligaen
Erik Braathen (Kvik Halden), Ismael Beko Fofana (ASEC Mimosas Abidjan), Gardar Johannsson (Valur), Konan Serge Kouadio (ASEC Mimosas Abidjan), Vidar Martinsen (Moss), Anders Prytz (Örgryte)
Simen Brenne (Lillestrøm), Yherland McDonald (Colorado Rapids), Michael Røn (Drobak-Frogn IL), Are Tronseth (Sparta Sarpsborg)
After some heavy transfer activity and the introduction of new manager Anders Grönhagen, FFK will certainly be looking to build upon last season's mid-table finish with a new attitude and vision.
Some of Fredrikstad's new buys have the power to define the season's finish. Ismael Fofana, for example, is a star of the Ivory Coast youth teams, having netted four goals in five at the 2005 African Under-17 Championships. He's got the ability to score goals, but will need to prove himself capable of doing that in a new league far away from his comfort zone and home.
After claiming the third highest tally of goals against in 2006, few would argue that defensively, the bolts will need to be tightened from the previous year; a burden that will likely fall at the feet of Sweden international and former Arsenal keeper Rami Shaaban. Last season, the team lost 10 of 26 Tippeligaen encounters, and drew as often as winning.
The arrival of six new faces and a fresh technical staff is bound to come with a sense of renewed spirit, and new ambitions to take the club forward.
With a soon-to-be fit again West, two precocious Ivorian strikers and Tarik Elyounoussi - who is drawing interest from some of Europe's elite clubs - the team certainly has options in attack and should have the ability to score goals.
If the team can work on improving its goal difference, results are sure to follow suit. Should a few more draws get edged out as wins, a marginal climb up the table could well result. It wouldn't be unreasonable to find the team settling around sixth place come season's end.
"I think we'll do well this season. We got a new coach and things are looking pretty good."
"With Rami Shaaban, who is a Swedish national team keeper, Raymond Kvisvik, Tarik Elyounoussi, I think that we have about four or five players that will be crucial this year."
"The top league is Norway is pretty even, and I think that it's going to be another season where anyone can beat anyone."
: 12th place, Tippeligaen
: Petter Bruer Hansen (Tønsberg), Zbynek Pospech (Slovan Liberec), Sven Fredrik Stray (Mandalskameratene)
: Ali Gerba (IFK Göteborg - loan return), Morten Knutsen (unattached), Erik Midtgarden (Notodden)
The arrival of Pospech should more than make up for the loss of former A-League standout Gerba, giving Borchers and the rest of the back an easier time. Odd only scored three times in the first hour of their last 10 games, eight of which were losses.
After sticking their nose in the race for Europe until midseason, the Skien boys slumped so bad that they were forced to thrash a second flight contender in the promotion/relegation playoff. The experience should help the club to keep from sliding into another major funk.
Coach Arne Sandstø has positioned Borchers at right back to begin the campaign, which gives the attacker a little more freedom - but a little less support.
Borchers and Odd should have a much more level season this time; they probably won't compete for Europe, but also probably won't fret survival until the final day either.
If the midfield makes a big improvement on 2006, they could stay in for a Royal League place to the wire. A positive possession game only takes you so far when you regularly generate mouthwatering counterattacks for the opponent.
"We are feeling confident around the club this preseason. We have a lot of talent on our team and a "blue collar" mentality that I think is going to help us succeed this season."
"As one of the youngest sides in the Tippeliga, we always feel as though we have something to prove against the older and more experienced sides. We are also one of the few sides in the league that plays a possession-style of soccer. We always take pride in the fact that we try to play every game instead of just hoofing the ball forward."
"Our offseason focus has been to find a proven goalscorer. We just signed a guy from the Czech Republic (Pospech), who has a very good record of scoring goals. I think he'll be a key to our success this year."
"Last year, we played like a top four team for the first part of the season and a relegation team during the second. We have what it takes to be in the top four, but we just need to be consistent this season."
ninth place, Adeccoligaen
Svein Tore Brandshaug (Strømsgodset), Carlos Castro (LD Alajuelense), Tor Olve Fagnastøl (Mandalskameratene), Ingvar Karlsen (Vard), Petter Larsen (Lørenskog), Bjørn Strøm (Tromsdalen), Cam Weaver (Seattle Sounders), Lars Øvernes (youth squad)
Rafael Berlinski (GKS Belchatow), Steinar Elke (Haugar), Patrik Fredholm (Unattached), Robert Gorski (GKS Belchatow), Morten Hæstad (Start Kristansand - loan return), Christian Sæther Moen (retired), Chris Pozniak (Toronto FC), Ivar Sandvik (retired), Espen Skogland (Haugar)
FK Haugesund had a successful 2006 season after their promotion from the 2nd Division, finishing in ninth place, three points clear of the relegation zone. A solid defense laid the foundation for the season's success, allowing only 37 goals in the 30 league games; only league winners Strømsgodset let in fewer goals.
The team's problem was in the other end of the field, where the offense scored only 40 goals. Three new offensive signings, including former Seattle Sounder Weaver, give coach Rune Skarsfjord new hope up front.
Having found their footing in the league, it is time for Haugesund to look further up in the table. Promotion is probably not in the cards for the team just yet, but relegation should not be a concern either.
Expect to find Haugesund from fourth to seventh place at the end of 2007.
"I expect to be playing, first of all, and developing my game, trying to help the club get promoted. That's kind of the #1 goal of this club right now. I see that as a possibility. We've played some strong teams from the top league and also some of the top teams from the first division, and we've shown that we can play right with them."
"I think I can score a lot of goals here, with the style they're playing. I think I've been playing fairly well in the preseason so far, scoring a number of goals. I just look forward to getting the league started."
sixth place, Adeccoligaen
Morten Christensen (Køge BK), Ulrik Flo (Stryn), Kurt Heggestad (Veitastrond - loan return), Lennox Kanu (Sandnes Ulf), Daniel Lubieniecki (FK Sparta Sarpsborg), Lukaz Nadolski (Cartuzja Kartuzyi), Peter Nyström (Västra Frölunda), Karl Palatu (FC Flora Tallinn),
Brian Waltrip (Sandefjord)
Joel Cedergren (GIF Sundsvall), Mathias Eikenes (Stryn), Kim Rune Hellesund (Nest-Sotra), Torgeir Hoås (released), Marco Reda (Toronto FC), Børre Stenslid (Viking Stavanger)
Sogndal proved themselves to be a difficult team to beat at home, losing only three games at Fosshaugane Campus last season. Too many draws, however, left the team trailing 13 points out of the promotion spot.
As with most teams in Adeccoligaen, Sogndal have made a lot of changes in the squad for the new season. Brian Waltrip is there to add a new dimension to the team's offense, tall Swede Peter Nyström is there to win the aerial battles in the box, and the team and fans alike expect a lot from Daniel Lubieniecki, who replaces Joel Cedergren in the central midfield.
The many defensive signings should leave coach Karl Oskar Emberland with enough options to close the gaps in the back, while Waltrip along with Andreas Moen and Lennox Kanu will make up the offensive trio in the 4-3-3.
While last season's performance does not make Sogndal favorites for promotion, the many signings bring in plenty of experience from higher levels, both in Norway and abroad.
Expect Sogndal to join the promotion race as outsiders.
"I expect us to fight for promotion. I think there are five or six teams that have a real chance a the top three spots, and we are one of them."
"The team is coming together nicely. This season brought quite a few new faces, including the trainer, so it has taken some time to come together. personally, I feel good. healthy and ready for the season to start."
[note]YA's Johannes de Jong, Greg Seltzer and Poul-Henrik Worm contributed to this report[/note]