LIU scores with Norwegians
An interview with Blackbirds Co-Captain Christopher Bjarre Solbakken
Much has been made of the fact that though soccer is popular throughout the world, it does not have the same toehold in this country. Yet in Brooklyn, that is not the case—several organizations sponsor teams on an annual basis.
In the New York area, universities and colleges such as Long Island University are part of the Northeast Conference. LIU’s Blackbirds (9-3-1 overall, 4-0 NEC), are a member and were ranked second as of Oct. 17. Co-captain/midfielder Christopher Bjarre Solbakken hails from Baerums, Norway. I asked him about his love of soccer, life with the Blackbirds, living in New York, and his future plans.
Victoria Hofmo: How and when did you get interested in soccer?
Christopher Bjarre Solbakken: I guess soccer has always been a part of me. It was the only thing I used to do in my spare time back in elementary school. Everyone played in the breaks between classes. We all just loved it.
VH: Why did you decide to come to the U.S.?
CBS: In my final year in high school, I started thinking about it. I had friends who already attended different universities in the U.S. To hear all the nice experiences they had really made me want to do the same.
VH: How did you choose LIU? Did you have help from College Scholarship USA?
CBS: It was a bit of a coincidence. I hadn’t made up my mind whether I should live in a big or small city. Frankly, I was a bit overwhelmed by the idea of living in a crowded area with so many people. I participated in a showcase in Sweden, hosted by CSUSA, which helps young people with the huge process of attending schools in the United States. Many coaches were there watching. In between the two sessions we had, I spoke to a very nice coach from Brooklyn. One of the main reasons I chose LIU was because I was convinced that this team played a similar type of soccer that we do back in Europe.
VH: Why did you choose to major in Business Management?
CBS: I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my career when I got out of high school. I just knew that I wanted to combine soccer and school, so what better way than to attend a university abroad? A business management degree is very broad, and it mainly provides me with a lot of opportunities. I was somewhat influenced by my dad. He works within this line of work, and I was advised to go in this direction. Now, I’ve added marketing and finance to my degree. I wasn’t quite convinced that “just” a management degree would provide sufficient opportunities.
VH: You suffered an injury last year. How long were you out of the game?
CBS: Out of all my injuries over the course of my career, tearing my ACL was the worst. Being away from the field and the team for an entire year, where I couldn’t do what I love the most, was just terrible. Obviously, it had its benefits as I could use some of the time to experience NYC to its fullest. It happened as I played summer league soccer in Norway. I went up for a header and landed completely wrong, twisting my knee in the landing. I knew instantly that it was serious. Later, the MRI images confirmed that it was a complete tear of my ACL.
VH: Has it been difficult to come back?
CBS: For sure! I had many ups and downs. Obviously, more days where I felt so helpless and where it was so hard to stay positive. Thankfully, I had really amazing friends and teammates, who took care of me and made sure the recovery process was a bit easier. Looking back at that year, I don’t get too excited about how many hours I spent doing treatment and just where I simply didn’t feel like myself. Injuries work that way. You feel as if the entire world is falling apart and there’s nothing you can do but to give it time. In this case, it took me around 11 months to participate in a full practice, so you might understand the frustration and desperation of wanting to get back with the team.
VH: You are co-captain of the Blackbirds. How was that decided and what is that like?
CBS: I became captain two seasons ago. I believe there was a team vote, and, also, the coach wanted me to be one of the leaders. I was really honored, and at the same time, very eager to show that I was ready for the responsibility. Also, being an injured captain wasn’t easy. I like to think that I’m an honest guy, who lets my actions speak for myself. Not being able to play was definitely a big challenge, but I tried to motivate the team and find happiness in their success.
VH: Did you know the two other Norwegians on the team before playing together?
CBS: Marius Koss went to my high school for one year. However, we didn’t play on the same team, so I considered him my opponent. Fredrik Mathisen was actually playing for the same team as me, Stabæk Fotball. I didn’t know him, because he played three years below me.
VH: Do you think you will stay in the states after your graduate?
CBS: I don’t think so. I’ve been thinking of looking for some internships here in New York, but I believe it’s about time to move back to Europe after four years abroad.
VH: You are also a cross-country skier. How do the two sports differ? What do they have in common?
CBS: Cross-country is really different from soccer. It’s an individual sport and it demands a lot of you because you are basically on your own. Learning how to push my body to the fullest was definitely a benefit I’ve transferred to the soccer field. I’m thankful for the years I competed, but I’m happy that I chose soccer (even though I had better chances of making it as a cross-country skier). I can say with certainty that these two sports have created my winning mentality. Without cross-country, it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be such a bad loser.
Defender Koss (2G, 2A) and midfielder Mathisen (5G, 4A) are also from Oslo. There are a slew of Scandinavians and Scandinavian-Americans on LIU: seven out of 26 members of the team!
“For the past four years it has been my privilege and pleasure to coach Christopher Solbakken and the rest of the Scandinavian players,” said Coach TJ Kostecky. “They bring a high level of maturity, focus, and professionalism to our program. They also connect well with all of us by having a wonderful sense of humor. They’ve made an invaluable contribution to our program.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.