Jakob Glesnes makes dramatic, victorious debut with Philadelphia Union


Photo: Philadelphia Union
Jakob Glesnes of the Philadelphia Union defends against FC Cincinnati. In his first season, the Norwegian helped the Union to the best record in MLS this season, but they lost in the first round to New England, a team they had already faced five times during the season.

The Norwegian American

It seems like ancient history, now, but center back Jakob Glesnes made a dramatic introduction to the Philadelphia Union and Major League Soccer. Date: March 8, second game of the season. Location: Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles. Opponent: Los Angeles Football Club, defending Supporter Shield champions for most points in the 2019 season. Situation: 48th minute, 1-1 score. Union earn a free kick 35-40 yards from the goal. Glesnes talks with midfielder Jamiro Monteiro, who usually takes the free kicks and debate strategy.

“I had no training in free kicks. I said if there are two in the wall, I want to shoot,” recalled Glenses in a Zoom interview from Bergen, the memory still bringing a smile. “Then, I said, ‘I’ll kick it in and then I say, no I want to shoot.’ Jamiro said, ‘are you sure?’ When there were only two in the wall, I said, ‘I’m sure.’”

Teammates, coach Jim Curtin, LAFC, crowd and broadcasters were dumbfounded. Moments later, Glesnes sends a blast from 35 yards out, over and through the players, the ball heading to the left side of the goal. LAFC goalie Kenneth Vermeer dives to his right, puts his hands out, but the rocket flies by into the left corner and the back of the net. His teammates, who he barely knows, crowd around him as if the goal decided a championship. He comes out of the crowd and leaps into the air. 

The broadcaster screams: “What a goal! Jakob Glesnes, a Norwegian center back has created a moment that will go around the world!” It did go viral.

It was the BIMBO (Union sponsor) Union Goal of the Year. “It was a great touch, but I didn’t know if it was enough, because it was really far away,” recalled Glesnes in a post-season video about the goal. “My friends back home were asking, ‘how can you shoot from that distance? You’re new to the team. You’re new to the league.’ When I saw the ball behind the goalie, it was amazing.”


Photo: Philadelphia Union
Jakob Glesnes moves the ball forward in a game this season.

“We thought he was an idiot for stepping up and even trying to hit it,” said Union midfielder Anthony Fontana. “I look back and see the ball in the back of the net. I say, ‘who the bleep is this guy?’ I was shocked.”

“What the hell is the guy doing?” said forward Kacper Przybyłko. “He’s not trying to shoot from that position? I was saying, ‘no, no. He’s not doing this.’ Then, it was boom!”

“As a coach on the sideline, you go, well, you can’t teach that. You can’t coach that,” said Curtin. “I didn’t know he had it in him. It seems like forever ago the Glesnes goal against LAFC. It was a game (ended 3-3), that gave us a belief in this season, that we could play with anybody.”

The thrill of the goal would have to sustain them. March 14 would have been the home opener and who knows what kind of Philadelphia welcome Glesnes would have received at Subaru Park. The coronavirus shut down MLS, all sports, and society. “For me personally, it was really nice because I was new in the States and no one knew me,” said Glesnes. “After the goal, everyone knows my name. It was a good start for me. I am just smiling still because I don’t understand why I was taking the shot. It was just something that happened in the moment. Yeah, it feels like it’s a really long time ago now.”

Glesnes played and captained Strømsgodset in Eliteserien from 2016 to 2019. In 113 matches, he chipped in three goals and seven assists and appeared in three Norwegian Cup matches. He played for Norway’s U21 national team and was called up to the senior national squad for a game in October 2019. He was named Norwegian soccer’s Role Model of the Year and Strømsgodset’s Community Player of the Year in 2017 for his work with community soccer programs.

His coach knew Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner, and Glesnes’ agent told him of the Union interest. “I talked with my wife and the family about it and after the season my old club allowed me to go over, to look at the facilities, the stadium and talk with the team,” said Glesnes. “After I was there, I was feeling it was a good match for me and for them, because when I talked with them, they already knew a lot of about me. The system Philadelphia was playing matched me fine. We decided we wanted to go over and try.”

He was signed on Jan. 31, 2020 using Target Allocation Money.

“It was really easy to come into the group,” said Glesnes, who had never been to the United States. “The group was really nice from the first second, and that helps a lot when you come a long way and to new people. I felt at home from the first day.”

No sooner had the Glesnes’ started to settle, COVID-19 changed everything. “The whole family was ready to come over from the end of March to the end of August,” said Glesnes, “But because of the corona, no one could come. My wife and kid had to go back to Norway for almost three months before they could come back. So that was a hard period.”

MLS restarted with a five-week tournament in a bubble in Disney World in Orlando on July 9. The Union reached the semifinals, losing to Portland 2-1. When the regular season resumed, the Union gained momentum and won the Supporters Shield for most points in the league in the season with 47 on 14 wins, four losses and five ties, their first trophy since the team’s inception in 2008. They allowed just 20 goals, thanks to goalie Andre Blake’s eight shutouts. However, they lost to New England 2-0, a team they had already faced five times, in the first round of the playoffs at home Nov. 24. Toward the end of the season, a limited number of fans were permitted in the stadium.


Photo: Philadelphia Union
Norwegian center back Jakob Glesnes holds the Supporters Shield.

“The first two weeks I was thinking they will cancel the bubble because there were many cases inside the bubble,” said Glesnes, who started 17 of 19 games and played 1,493 minutes. “After those teams were thrown out, after the first one and a half weeks and until the tournament was finished, the bubble was very good. We felt safe all the time. We followed all the protocols, tested every second day. That helped us a lot. We couldn’t do much in the bubble because of the situation outside. To play in this manner, I think that was the safest way to do it.

“I thought we should go all the way in the tournament, but it was a good tournament for us. We had confidence after Orlando, because we saw that we are a good team and could play well against all the other teams. We had to have trust in ourselves and keep doing what we were doing, because it was working. Winning the Supporters Shield is a good start for us, to build on for next season.

“Losing to New England was hard, especially when we had played them so many times. If you play against a team 10 times and you win 1-0, 2-1, after 10 games, we will lose one. It’s hard to just look back now when we had been good all season and this was the time to shine and take it to the next level. We wanted to do something big for Philly, not just for the club.

“Going from no fans to a few was a bit different. When we had nothing, it felt like we were playing in the pre-season. I heard how much noise 4,000 fans in Philadelphia can make. I’m looking forward to hearing how much noise 18,000 fans can make.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 15, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

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