Blame AAU basketball, blame the one-and-done generation, blame whatever you want, but what cannot be argued is that there is an international wave taking over the NBA. Increasingly it seems like the best and most influential players in the NBA are from countries and regions outside of the U.S.
Jonas Fjeldberg is a Soccer Magician
Every sports fan knows when they see it when they see a player that does not seem to be governed by the same limits that every other player must abide by. These players seem to make a knack of making the impossible not only seem possible but relatively easy. For lack of a better term, these are what you call magicians. And anyone who has seen Jonas Fjeldberg play will tell you they've seen a magician at hand.
Jonas was recently selected in the 2021 MLS Draft by FC Cincinnati, a high honor for a player whose abilities are best showcased in a highlight video that went viral shortly after.
But it's not that simple. For this magician, it's been a long road of sacrifice and commitment.
For a country of just above 5 million, Norway has a knack for producing high-level soccer talent.
Most outside of the country will tell you of Oslo, the capital of Norway. But lying just 27 miles outside of Oslo is the city of Jessheim, a town whose population of just above 17,000 is greatly dwarfed by the 634 thousand that reside in the capital city.
Yet, it was from this little known small town that Jonas Fjeldberg went from the son of a local coach, to a youth national team player, to a record-setting Division 1 Conference player of the year a continent away, and eventually an MLS draft selection.
For Jonas, soccer was a vital part of life from day one. The son of two parents who played soccer in their youth, Jonas, grew up playing for his father. Particular in the youth academy of the Ull/Kisa Fotball Club. The club, founded in 1894 as the only professional club in the city, is the pride of the community. A community like that looks after one another and takes pride in anyone of their own. And from very early on, Jonas's feats on the soccer field were something the community could take pride in on the national scale.
But as most coach's sons and daughters will tell you, playing for a parent can be as humbling as it is rewarding. No one understands you better than a parent, and pushing the right buttons can help an athlete reach new heights.
"He didn't hesitate to let me know when I played bad and was really hesitant to give me praise when I had a good game. At the time, I didn't like it, but looking back, I think that kept me humble and motivated me to keep working hard."
These methods helped spur Jonas into new heights.
Jonas would make his National team debut for the Norwegian U16 team in March of 2014. He spent the next three years making various appearances for the youth team, cumulating in 17 appearances between the U16, U17, U18, and U19 age groups.
Despite these early successes, there comes a time where every player must decide what comes next. It was 2017, and it was time to make that decision. He had fallen out of love with the game, the same passion that drives the commitment that is required to improve year after year had deserted him.
For Jonas, college soccer in the United States was not something he had planned, but when he received a random Facebook message from a coach in Dayton, Ohio, an intriguing prospect came to mind.
At the time, the University of Dayton was fresh off having two straight players drafted in the MLS draft. In 2016, Amass Amankona went with the 46th pick, and in the 2017 draft, it was Lalas Abubakar with the 5th overall pick.
Here was an opportunity to join a program with a proven pedigree to professional soccer in the United States, but, more importantly for Jonas, it was an opportunity to use his incredible talents to earn an education.
And so, at 18 years old, it was off to Dayton, Ohio. The match seemed so right that the University was the only school Jonas considered.
But it's one thing to transition on paper. It is another thing altogether to move away from family for the first time, to a new country, in a new part of the world, to a new school, with no friends, and a style of soccer that differs from anything you have ever experienced.
At the top of that difference was the focus on fitness that exists in college soccer.
But at the end of the day, if a ball is involved, Jonas will find a way to make magic happen. And despite these new challenges, Jonas turned in a freshman season that showed the promise of what was to come. With 2 goals and 6 assists, he was named to the A-10 all-Rookie team.
However, in soccer, things rarely ever go as planned. A sophomore season defined by injuries hindered Jonas from fully living up to the promise of the year before. At a crossroads, it was either give in to the injuries and allow them to derail what could have been a promising career - or fight through to return to his best.
Injuries are something every athlete will go through at some point. A vital part of coming out on the other end is the faith you have in yourself and the trust and support the coaching staff gives you. Jonas was lucky to have both at the University of Dayton.
"My dad and my current coaches. Coach Currier, Coach Ranalli, and Coach Brendon. They have been the ones to understand me the best and let me be the player that I want to be."
That trust was combined with a focus on fitness and improving both physically and mentally. Jonas opted to spend summers in Dayton, Ohio training and playing for the Dayton Dutch Lions, rather than returning home and relaxing with friends and family.
It was a grown-up decision from a man determined to be at his best come junior season, and given the results, you can't argue his methods.
Jonas entered that Junior season more fit and healthy than he had ever been. And with an understanding of what it would take to not only start the season strong but remain healthy and gain strength through the arduous college season, Jonas was prepared to show the full reach of his talents.
That junior season saw him record 11 goals and 9 assists in 21 games on route to winning the Atlantic 10 Conference Offensive Player of the Year, just the third in school history.
That season was filled with highlight after highlight, but perhaps the most telling feat of Jonas's commitment to improvement came late in the season.
College soccer is notorious for its difficult schedule that crams 20+ games into a three month period where students must juggle academics, with long road trips, all while playing two to three games a week. Part of that reality is that most players fade towards the season end as the physical and mental stress starts to take a toll.
But for Jonas, this was not the case. Weeks 7, 8 and 9, of the 10-week regular season, saw him win three straight Offensive Player of the Week honors. When everyone else was fading, Jonas only seemed to be getting better and better. Credence to the work he put in at improving his fitness and durability year after year.
It's strange looking back to say that the joy for the game was once gone, but that was the truth for Jonas.
"I left Norway to make education my number 1 priority. I had no love for the game left, and I planned on going into the workplace after college. The University of Dayton gave me the love of the game back, and I am forever grateful for that."
Part of regaining that joy has been through the soccer culture at the University of Dayton.
"The facilities and the staff make the outside of the program look great, but it is when you get to know the team and the guys that you realize what a special place this is. It is nothing like anything I have ever been a part of, and I enjoy every minute I spend with the guys here."
That joy for the game is back, and anyone who has seen him play will tell you that. They say a magician never reveals his tricks, and for Jonas, that statement rings true.
"When I do something good on the field, it is like my brain is on autopilot. I don't remember how or what I just did. It just happens."
That magic has led to some prestigious individual honors. And despite those incredible individual honors, Jonas remains committed to the team's success above any personal award. That 2019 season ended with a loss in the Conference Championship game. Jonas returned to the University of Dayton for a senior season and, one last go at winning the Conference Championship.
Jonas was drafted by FC Cincinnati in the second round of the 2021 Draft. But with Covid-19 causing the Atlantic 10 to move the fall season into the spring, the club will be allowing Jonas to return to Dayton for one last season this spring.
"Getting the individual award is nice, but I don't care about those as long as we don't win games. Winning the A10 championship my last year here at UD is my absolute goal, and I will work hard to make that happen."
Whatever happens in the future is unknown, but rest assured, Jonas will continue to produce moments of magic.
Latest posts in our blog
Read what's new this week
Few teams have been as consistently good as the Portland Trail Blazers have been over the past decade. Star point guard Damian Lillard has carried the team to respectability every season he's been in the league. Unfortunately, the team as currently constructed has clearly reached its ceiling.
Arsenal football club has been one of the biggest laughing stocks in European football for the last decade, which makes been a fan a tough task. But we still exist, and there will be a return to glory sooner rather than later. That return starts with an improvement in the transfer window, particularly in signing players, like Jack Grealish, who...