‘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.

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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.”

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“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!”

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