The Columbus Crew SC defense has been struggling all season and depth has been threadbare since Gaston Sauro was injured and Amro Tarek left the club. I talked with reporter Brendan Husebø to find out if Nicolai Næss is the answer at center back.
Patrick Guldan: Næss has gotten a lot of playing time early in his career. How has he performed at Stabæk?
Brendan Husebø: Beside Stabæk legend Morten Skjønsberg in defence, Nicolai has become a stalwart on- and off-the-field in some of the hardest circumstances. When he joined Stabæk, they were in the midst of an almost total redo; the club ran out of money and lost their stadium, so were forced to recoup in the second flight. In the three-and-a-half years since then, Næss had almost taken over the mantle as the leader figure from his captain.
PG: Can you describe how Næss plays?
BH: It’s his loyalty to his club and shared understanding with their fans that not only defined his time at Stabæk, but also defines him as a player. He’s faster than his now former centre back partner Skjønsberg, but his play can largely be reduced down to strength, timely aggression and consistent focus. The reason he’s been overlooked for the national team can partly be put down to playing for an unfashionable club, but mostly because he doesn’t have as flashy style from defense as the likes of Vegard Forren or Håvard Nordtveit.
PG: What does this move mean for Næss in his career?
BH: With six months left on his contract, now was the right time to move. Though he was the first to deliberate with fans when things either went very right or very wrong, he grew too good for Stabæk even when they finished third last year under Bob Bradley, let alone now whilst they struggle near relegation places. His ambitions were made obvious to Heerenveen in the winter, but their offer was rejected by Stabæk. The way he connects to fans, I had a feeling even then that his next move wouldn’t be a stepping stone, but to be an important part of a high stature club. Some might say he’d have had a better chance to show off his quality in the Eredivisie, but - as a life choice beyond what’s on-the-pitch - choosing to be a part of Columbus Crew SC doesn’t seem like a surprising decision.
PG: He sounds like an excellent signing and fit for this team given his mentality and how he plays.
BH: I sure expect him to be. Was one of the most undervalued players in Tippeligaen. Hope he settles well and feels comfortable being part of the club’s culture, because he’s the sort of guy who deserves that sort of relationship with his club.
A big thanks to Brendan for taking the time to answer some questions about what sounds like Crew SC's new stalwart in defense.