An American in Norway: Bjørn Maars Johnsen debuts on team Norway

Photo: Bjørn S. Delebekk / VG
One of Maars Johnsen’s dreams came true when he played for Norway in World Cup qualifiers.

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

A lifelong dream has come true for Bjørn Maars Johnsen: the 25-year-old Norwegian-American striker has been called up to represent Norway on the national soccer team.

Born in New York to a Norwegian father and American mother, Maars Johnsen has dual citizenship and therefore eligibility to play for either national team. His chances of making it on the U.S. team were slim, but he knew he had a shot at earning a spot on the Norwegian team, something he has hoped for since he was a small child.

“My dream is to play for one of the biggest clubs in Europe and for the Norwegian national team in the World Cup. I want to make both my father and my family proud, and the majority of them are from Norway,” he said to VG two years ago.

The 6-foot-5-inch Norwegian American grew up in North Carolina but started his soccer career in Norway as an 18-year-old, playing two seasons for Vålerenga and Tønsberg. He then bounced around for several years, playing in the Baltic Islands, Portugal, and Bulgaria. In the summer of 2016, he ended up on a three-year deal with the Heart of Midlothian in the Scottish Premiership. He scored six goals in the 2016/2017 season and caught the attention of Lars Lagerbäck, Norway’s new head coach.

It was announced on May 30 that Lagerbäck had called Maars Johnsen up to play for the Norwegian team in the World Cup qualifiers at Oslo’s Ullevaal Stadion against the Czech Republic on June 10 and Sweden on June 13.

“It was completely insane for me. Right now, this is also great for the whole family and my girlfriend. They are shocked and ready for a new adventure. It’s a big and proud moment for us,” he told VG.

His Norwegian father, Hasse Johnsen, was brought to tears when his son called him with the news. “It’s not very often that I cry, but this is big,” he said to VG.

Even though his son has spent much of his life in the U.S., Johnsen notes that he has always been a loyal supporter of the Norwegian team.

“It’s very big for Bjørn. He is incredibly proud… He has been a Norway fan since the 1990s. He ran around Nesodden and shouted ‘Flo, Flo, Flo’ in 1998. His idol is Ole Gunnar Solskjær. That’s why he wears number 20,” he said to VG.

On June 10, Maars Johnsen officially joined the ranks of his heroes when he played 19 minutes in the game against the Czech Republic. He had a chance to score in overtime, but his header was saved by the goalkeeper. The match ended 1-1.

“You must realize that you are picked for the team to score and win the match. Therefore I’m disappointed that I did not score,” he says. The match was an overwhelming experience for him nevertheless, especially with his family present. Even his father had made the journey to Norway to see him play.

“After ten years—ten long, tough years—it was very emotional for me to see his face. He didn’t say anything. He is a Norwegian, so he won’t say anything. But I know what he is thinking. I know what he is feeling. And we feel it together,” says Maars Johnsen.

Due to his promising performance against the Czech Republic, Lagerbäck chose him for the starting lineup against Sweden on June 13. He again had an opportunity to score, but his attempt was stopped. In the end, the neighboring countries tied 1-1. Now that he has played for Norway, he is officially cap-tied and ineligible to play for the U.S. team on an international level.

What’s next for the Norwegian American? He’s uncertain.

“There are big changes in Hearts now. I have thrived with Hearts, but I don’t know what will happen. I hope it will be announced soon if I’m going to continue with Hearts or need to find a new club,” he said.

Either way, Bjørn Maars Johnsen can certainly be proud of earning the long-awaited opportunity to wear the Norwegian flag on his chest.

This article originally appeared in the June 30, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.