DAVID SMITH - Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Shortly into his loan spell with Norwegian Tippeligaen club Stabaek, Andrew Jacobson is enjoying the chance to experience a new approach to the game under the guidance of a familiar coach.
Jacobson recently joined the growing list of players to sign with fledgling MLS newcomer New York City FC, and much like his future teammate Jeb Brovsky, immediately signed a loan deal in the Norwegian Tippeligaen for the rest of the 2014 season in order to keep sharp prior to the team's official start in 2015.
In Jacobson's case, the destination was recently-promoted Stabaek, where he linked up with fellow MLS veteran Michael Stephens and former US National team head coach Bob Bradley. Unsurprisingly, this latter fact was one of the important elements which influenced both Jacobson and New York in their decision to push for the temporary move to Stabaek.
"[The loan] is something that really worked out for everyone," Jacobson told YA. "I really wanted to come play for coach Bradley. NYCFC felt comfortable knowing that I would be in good hands going to Stabaek. In the end, it was a no brainier."
Even though his time to work under the tutelage of Bradley will be limited to the remainder of the team's 2014 schedule prior to the completion of the Tippeligaen season in November, the former FC Dallas captain feels that he will reap significant benefits from even just a few months under the veteran coach.
"I really see a great opportunity in working under Bob through the season," he beams, continuing, "not because he is a great American coach, but because he is a great coach."
Indeed, Bradley has perhaps the most distinguished resume of all head coaches currently in Norway's top division, having been highly successful in his decade in MLS before coaching both the USA and Egypt national teams to results which at times exceeded many expectations.
Just over half of the season into his first international club coaching gig, the jury is still out as to whether the same will be said about his work at Stabaek, although some recent results have indicated that the team has a strong chance to do better than merely survive their return to the top division.
Jacobson sees Bradley's intense interaction with each player on an individual basis as one of the major strengths behind his success on the team level, and also something which will be a key to his own growth in his brief time at Stabaek.
"He is a coach that will push every player individually so I see it as a chance to improve quickly," the former UC Berkeley player elaborates. "He has great insight and I feel can help me add some things to my game that I don't have. I'm really relishing this."
He has not had to wait long to become a factor for Stabaek, playing every minute of each of the four games since his arrival. Jacobson has been deployed primarily in a deeper role in the midfield, although with the tactical freedom to push forward and provide more creativity on the attack when fitting.
"The way we have been playing under Bob [...] offers a lot of flexibility," he assessed. "I think that has given me a lot of freedom to act on what the game calls for."
"At times, I can start deep but also get into pockets in the attack as other players move into a deeper role," he elaborates, "I am really enjoying the way we are playing."
"Our goal is just to keep trying to get a little better each week and establish how we want to play for 90 minutes."
This flexibility was particularly evident in the team's recent 2-2 draw against reigning champions Molde, where directly assisted on both of the team's goals while primarily working behind a four-man attacking front.
His success so far on the field has come in spite of what he has learned are fairly pointed differences in playing style compared to what he experienced in his nearly 5 previous season in MLS.
"Coming here, I expected a very direct game with a lot of tackling," he admits. "I was pretty surprised to find that most teams in the top division try to play with the ball on the ground."
"I think individually, the players in the MLS are faster, more athletic and technically add a bit more flare," the former FC United, Philadelphia Union and FC Dallas player elaborated. "In Norway, the players are tactically better and are more fundamentally sound (every shot is on frame and the crossing seems to be a bit better)."
Jacobson credits part of his quick acclimatization to having fellow American Michael Stephens already as an established member of the roster and starting eleven.
"It has helped a lot having Mike here," he acknowledged. "He is a very good player and I can already tell we are on the same page."
The benefit has been mutual; Jacobson directly set up Stephens's first goal with the team in their recent draw against league leaders Molde, and his more disciplined play behind the front-four has allowed Stephens more freedom in the attack.
Jacobson does not only reserve the praise for his fellow American, but also credits the rest of the squad for both his fast adjustment and being skilled allies on the field in their push for success.
"There are actually a lot of good players here who are very friendly so arriving here has been made that much easier."
In the four games since Jacobson's arrival, Stabaek have won two games, drawn one and lost one, while advancing to the semifinal of the Norwegian Cup. They still only have a three-point cushion above the relegation places, and have another ten games to go in the 2014 season.