Will the Vålerenga women win second league title?
JO CHRISTIAN WELDINGH
Lillestrøm had been dominating the Norwegian women’s soccer league, Toppserien, for almost a decade when Vålerenga stopped them from winning their seventh consecutive title last season. Heading into the last league game of 2020, three teams were still in the title race, Vålerenga, Rosenborg, and Avaldsnes. It is always difficult to predict the outcome of Toppserien, but these three teams are expected to challenge for the title this season.
Vålerenga lost their star player Sherida Spitse, who moved back to the Netherlands, and their top scorer Ajara Nchout (nine goals last season, 11 in 2019). They might not be as strong as they were last season despite the signing of national team player Elise Thorsnes. Rosenborg also lost their top scorer, Marit Clausen, who felt she got a better offer from rival team Klepp.
However, rather than player transfers, the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic might be even more decisive for the league outcome.
It has been a difficult winter for Norwegian soccer players, maybe especially for the women’s teams that lack the resources of the men’s teams. The pandemic has caused the league start to get delayed three times, and the teams are still left in uncertainty. Most teams have been able to practice like planned, but teams from Bodø, Viken, and Vestfold (LSK Women, Kolbotn, Stabæk, Avaldsnes), areas with stricter COVID-19 restrictions, have not been able to meet for scheduled training sessions or play friendly matches. This will surely affect the team’s fitness levels and tactical preparation, and these four are scheduled to meet each other in the first few league games to level the playing field.
“Our ambition is, as much as possible, to create a level playing field for the teams. It’s also a medical assessment, as we also have to consider the risk of injuries,” CEO of Toppserien Hege Jørgensen told VG when Toppserien was delayed for a third time.
Toppserien was supposed to start March 20, but now the Norwegian Soccer Federation (NFF) are planning for May 22. For the second year in a row, the women’s new playoff is canceled because of the pandemic. The plan was to play the 18 league games and then finish the season with a playoff with the four best teams, not unlike the way it is done in the American basketball and ice-hockey leagues.
“The season has been drastically shortened because of the pandemic, so the clubs have all agreed to wait until next season,” NFF Director of Competitions Nils Fisketjønn told NRK.
The Oslo club got the double, winning the league and Norway Cup. Thorsnes will benefit the attack, as she scored 35 goals in four seasons at Avaldsnes. Player of the Year defender Ingibjörg Sigurdardóttir returns, as the Iceland national team member netted five goals. The Serbian national team player, Dejana Stefanović, known as “Our Serbian Gunpowder Package,” had seven goals in 2020. Other Norway national team players are Synne Jensen, who scored only three goals in 2020 but had 16 for Røa in 2019, and midfielder Rikke Bogetveit Nygård.
Rosenborg, formerly Trondsheim-Ørn, had the oddest season a team could have. They were undefeated but didn’t win the league or cup. Gone is midfielder Julie Blakstad (seven goals), but returning are national team member midfielder Kristine Minde, forward Lisa-Marie Karlseng Utland (six goals), Maria Olsvik, who has played 124 games with Rosenborg, and national teamer Emilie Bragstad.
The loss of Thorsnes will hurt but returning are national teamer midfielder Olaug Tvedten (nine goals last two seasons) defenders Hanna Dahl, who has played 123 games in seven seasons, Nathalie Jøssang Utvik, who’s played 65 games in four seasons, New Zealand keeper Victoria Esson, who’s played 29 games the last two years, and American defender Robyn Decker (39 games last two years). Federica Di Criscio comes over from the Italian Serie A league and Sara Pavlović from Serbia, where she’s on the national team. There are five 17-year-olds on the team.
This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.