Columbus Crew SC's newest defender, Nicolai Naess, is leaving his native Norway for the first time in his playing career as a 23-year-old. Most of the time, that may raise red flags and cause concern, but a deeper look into Naess' path into the League and to Columbus provides a different narrative.
Although Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter's backline bolstering probably won't take full effect in time for Saturday's showdown with Orlando City SC at MAPFRE Stadium, it will be welcomed throughout the second half of the season and beyond. TICKETS
Welcome (Back) to the League
Naess made his professional debut as a 19-year-old — the same age Crew SC All-Star Wil Trapp did, just for perspective — and was thrust into five appearances with Vålerenga's defense before joining Stabaek in 2013. Although he isn't a purchase or transfer of ex-U.S. Men's National Team head coach Bob Bradley's, there's no doubt that Naess made an impact on Bradley through their 53 appearances (all competitions) together.
WATCH: Naess on joining Columbus Crew SC
And there's little doubt that the American coach — with the 1998 MLS Cup, U.S. Open Cup and Coach of the Year trophies on his resume — played a massive role in Naess' interest in America.
Bradley brought Naess and Stabaek to face three different MLS teams in the 2015 preseason. The 2015 Simple Invitational, hosted by the Portland Timbers, gave Naess a six-day sneak peak into the MLS lifestyle and competition with matches against Portland, Vancouver Whitecaps and Chicago Fire in the Pacific Northwest.
Diving even deeper than his 2015 stateside visit, Naess's career connections with Crew SC exist right below the surface. The 6-foot tall defender played alongside former Crew SC midfielder Cole Grossman throughout all of 2015. And as a stretch, Naess may even remember lining up against current Crew SC goal-scoring machine Ola Kamara — including a 3-3 draw just more than a year ago, on May 16, 2015.
Hei Igjen (Hello Again)
That May meet-up in the Tippeligaen was just the latest in a line of crossovers between Kamara and Naess. To start with — as far as low-hanging fruit goes — both are Oslo, Norway, natives. Despite being three years older, Kamara no doubt ran into Naess through similar soccer circles coming up through Oslo's different youth tiers.
The two collided competitively as early as 2012, when Kamara's Stroemsgodset edged Naess' Vålerenga on March 31. Beyond sharing national ties, Crew SC's two Norwegians will now team up with a next-level familiarity having marked each other outside of the Black & Gold.
Naess will become available for selection by Berhalter as soon as his International Transfer Certificate and P-1 Visa receive their respective approvals.
Crew SC concludes a three-match Major League Soccer homestand on Saturday when Orlando City SC visits Central Ohio (7:30 p.m. ET / The CW Columbus, Time Warner Cable SportsChannel, BCSN2, CD102.5 FM, La Mega 103.1 FM, English radio stream available on ColumbusCrewSC.com).