Hartnett: ‘Viking Warrior’ Jan Gunnar Solli Charging Red Bulls’ Attack In His New Role

‘Running With The Red Bulls’
By Sean Hartnett
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Having been an influential member in title and cup-winning Norwegian sides Odd Genland, Rosenborg BK and SK Brann, right back Jan Gunnar Solli is embracing his new challenge with the New York Red Bulls.  Not only is he adapting to Major League Soccer and living in America but also his new full-time position at right back.

It isn’t surprising that Solli coolly rolls with whatever comes his way in life.  After spending a few minutes chatting with him post-match outside the Red Bulls’ locker room, you could quickly tell that he enjoys all aspects of being a professional footballer.  As reporters gathered around him for interviews, he didn’t mind taking their questions even though he was bandaged and battered from a physical 90 minute affair with Toronto FC.

With a smile on his face, he joked with reporters as he pointed to his shin where he was kicked by a Toronto player.  “I’m going to be ready.  I said to myself, I’m going to think positive and get enough rest.  Being able to get through 90 minutes without any cramps or troubles, there’s a difference between being injured and hurt,” he explained.

It’s remarkable that Solli was able to play a full 90 against Toronto as he was coming off lingering effects suffered four days earlier against San Jose.  Teammate Thierry Henry marveled at his ability to bounce-back and be ready in time for Wednesday night’s clash.

“He said to me yesterday, ‘if you’re going to play tomorrow – I’m going to call you Superman because I’ve never seen anyone recover that quickly.’  Honestly, I had a cramp and tear after last game against San Jose.  It didn’t feel good, especially in the morning when I got out of bed.  When I got onto the bus, I did not think I was going to play today,” Solli recalled.

Maybe it’s his tough Viking blood but no matter what sort of obstacle is thrown in front of him, Solli is eager to meet it head-on.  Predominantly used as a right winger for the majority of his career, he was asked to modify his game by Red Bulls’ head coach Hans Backe.  Upon joining the Red Bulls, Solli was asked to play deeper at right back and make the best out his abilities jumpstarting the attack with his pace, delivering long passes and marking tricky opposing wingers.  With fleet-footed Jamaican Dane Richards occupying the right wing, Solli has wholeheartedly threw himself into his new role.

“I haven’t been a full-back all my life.  I’ve been a midfielder most of my life.  Here, I’ve just played right-back outside of Vancouver.  Even there, I started off in the midfield but finished the game off as a right-back.  I now see myself as a right-back and work at it every day on the training field.”

“I’m a more forward player.  The perfect ball is the one that is front of me.  I like to chase after the ball that I can just get my toe onto which helps me keep the tempo up in my game.  If they have strong offensive players, I want them to chase me a little bit so I don’t have to always have to chase after them.  That’s a big part of what I’m doing here in the MLS, trying to be offensive.  I know I have some weaknesses in the defensive game but I try to be smart and compensate for that by contributing offensively,” Solli continued.

He’s gone beyond performing the role admirably and flourishes at right back.  In the Red Bulls’ 5-0 rout of Toronto, ‘The Viking Warrior’ Solli was key in putting his opponents to the sword.  His cross into the box was shepherded by Luke Rodgers into the feet of Thierry Henry who coolly finished the opening goal of the match.  Five minutes later, he made a lung-bursting run down the wing and set up Rodgers for a thunderbolt strike.  It was all the ammunition New York needed to gain an impenetrable stranglehold on their opponents.

“It was nice to have two assists today.  When Luke (Rodgers) didn’t finish the first one.  Thierry (Henry) was there backing him.  It’s a perfect example of two strikers knowing each other,” he mentioned.

Solli has been praised throughout his career for his versatility to play either on the wing, centrally in attack or now as he does at right back.  You get the feeling speaking to him that even if Backe had called on him to play keeper in an emergency situation, he would welcome the challenge and put his best foot forward.  He defines what a team-first player is about and humbly accepts his role doing unglorified work up and down the wing.

“There is a lot of space on the pitch and that suits my game.  I try to wear my opponents out.  Even if I don’t get the chance to make a nice assist or final pass until maybe the 89th minute, I’m perfectly fine with that.”

He’s eager to repay the support shown for him by the fans at Red Bull Arena who sing their heart out for 90 minutes.  It’s fair to say that Solli has been an instant hit among supporters and is appreciative of the passion and colorful atmosphere they display every home match.

“Of course it does.  We can hear it.  A lot of players say they can’t hear the fans screaming their name but I can hear it.  It’s a nice feeling.  They want me to join in and do the ‘bull dance’ at the end of the game and do a little show!”

What do you of Solli’s overall contribution to the Red Bulls?  Leave your feedback below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.

  • Santas

    Good piece. Solli rules.

    Would be great see an article like this on Teemu. Or our English bulldog, Luke “Tank” Rodgers.

    • menlo

      Would love a long interview with Luke.

      • hartylfc

        I’m hoping to speak with Luke soon. Keep checking back, I’m planning on doing a one-on-one with him soon.

  • CH15

    Great piece, nice to see some coverage of the Red Bulls on this site! Any chance you can do a similar piece on Tainio?

  • Anthony Pepe

    i only clicked on this because i had no idea what the headline meant. and now i don’t care.

  • aTrayne

    Solli was such a great find. He’s adapted incredibly to a new league and a new position, and constantly makes his presence felt in the RBNY attack. Add in the fact that he comes across as an awesome guy who appreciates the supporters and you get a real fan favorite.

  • lydia

    Solli is a true gem. He’s ferocious on the pitch and a fan’s player off the pitch. What a great ambassador for the Red Bulls.
    I am a 28 years old doctor, mature and beautiful.and now I am seeking a good man who can give me real love , so i got a username Andromeda2002 on–s’e’ek’c’ou’ga’r.c óm–.it is the first and best club for y’ounger women and old’er men, or older women and y’ounger men,to int’eract with each other. Maybe you wanna ch’eck ‘it out or tell your friends!

  • JamaicaQns

    I’ve definitely bellowed his name loud enough a few times for him to hear me haha

  • NJEuroMutt

    Solli is awesome..I hope he’s here for years down the road. Love the fact he acknowledges us in the South Ward and does his Bull Dance.

  • Jay Walk

    Now if only we had another DJ Solli to replace Miller on the other side.

    • hartylfc

      I have a few issues with it myself. Wasn’t working for WFAN when it came out so I didn’t have any input on it. When I get the chance I’ll bring it up and try to make a few modifications.

      • Jay Walk

        Thanks, Sean!

  • Did I Do That?

    DJ Solli has bull danced his way into my heart. Seriously, picking up Tainio and Solli was one of the greatest dual acquisitions in league history. If you include Rodgers in this years signings… whoosh.

    • hartylfc

      Hard to fault anything that Soler’s done this year. Even spinning off De Rosario for McCarty seems like a masterstroke. – Sean Hartnett

      • Jay Walk

        Hey Sean, any chance the RBA stadium guide page will be updated?

  • Timothy Carreno

    DJ Solli.,one of my faves this season…

  • Anthony

    Great article. Solli is definitely a fan favorite.

  • Greg

    He’s been excellent so far this year, another gem found by Erik Soler

  • rizapata


  • Bart

    Solli played good yesterday. He is a class act and a awesome player. I loved how he came over to the supporters section after the game and high fived the fans with Dax…

  • Rob

    What a guy. DJ Solli is definitely one of my favorite Red Bulls.

  • Lenny

    DJ Solli is another great pick-up for RBNY. Love his attitude and play on the pitch. Thanks for the great feature, Sean. Keep ’em coming!

  • JayDelight

    He’s been key with those overlapping runs. Overall good guy and seems to be enjoying his stay in NY where he has found a home. Hope to see him here for a few more years.

  • josh

    DJ Solli is class. Love that guy. Gives his all for 90 minutes, and his overlapping runs have been killer opening up defenses. I wonder what will happen when Albright is back to full health.

    • Joe

      I cant see Allbright coming back doing much more then just giving us much needed depth at the position. That rightback spot is locked up by Solli….

      • Jay Walk

        Yea, Albright should be in the Open Cup game against Chicago which I think he’ll be sorely needed. Chicago isn’t going to take it lightly and our reserves will need all the help they can get. I wonder if Nielsen will make an appearance as well.

  • irishapple21

    Solli is a true gem. He’s ferocious on the pitch and a fan’s player off the pitch. What a great ambassador for the Red Bulls.

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