Sought after in the middle of Norway, Oyvind Alseth gears up for one more playoff run
Ally Moreo | Asst. Photo Editor
Ian McIntyre’s rental car rumbled through the mountains, down the coast of western Norway on European Route E39. He cut through the vastness of the country’s valleys, glaciers and lakes, gazing out the window as snow piled on the sides of the one-way road. Four hours of travel on icy, unknown, winding roads with gusty winds and speed limits no more than 35 miles per hour led him to a small town where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Scandinavian Peninsula.
“I had no idea how to work the radio,” McIntyre joked. “It was about trying to stay alive.”
There, along the coast, McIntyre found what he was looking for. The Syracuse head coach trekked across Norway four winters ago searching for Oyvind Alseth. On a frozen tundra of a field, McIntyre watched as Alseth played a preseason match that February night in 2013. The 6-foot, 170-pound midfielder has started in all but one of Syracuse’s 80 games over the last four seasons, rendering McIntyre’s long drive was well worth it.
Alseth now leads a perennial contender and is key to Syracuse’s title hopes in 2016. He has, almost in spite of himself, evolved into a central presence for No. 7 SU (11-3-4, 3-2-3 Atlantic Coast). He’s helped create a standard at Syracuse where anything but a trip to the final four could be considered a disappointment.
In emerging from role player to team captain, Alseth has piloted one of the steadiest careers in Syracuse’s recent history. He started on SU’s 2014 team that reached the program’s first-ever No. 1 ranking. He started every game of last year’s ACC title-winning team. He started in the College Cup last December and, this year, captained the Orange to its best-ever start to a season.
The night before McIntyre made the long drive to recruit Alseth, he ate dinner with his family at their home in Trondheim. Over Norwegian meatballs and Coca-Cola, McIntyre discussed his reasons for coming all the way to Norway from Syracuse to see Alseth. He outlined the promise of Alseth’s future, telling him he could slide into the midfield early on. He convinced him that SU would grow into one of the premier teams in college soccer.
“‘We should be one of the U.S.’ best teams, you should come with me and be a part of that building up this team,’” John, Alseth’s father, recalled McIntyre saying. “Oyvind started that. I guess that was the beginning of Syracuse’s best years.”
That evening, McIntyre watched Alseth practice with his team. Between the temperatures hovering around negative 20 degrees Celsius and the icy roads, John urged McIntyre not to drive. At the very least, he offered to drive McIntyre. The coach declined.
The morning after he watched Alseth, McIntyre had a 6:30 a.m. flight at a small airport along the coast. When he arrived, no one was there. Then a man in a coat showed up to open the airport’s doors, work security and check bags.
“I could have flown the plane I think,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre’s venture impressed Alseth enough to come to Syracuse over Florida, Stony Brook and Hofstra. The coach surprised Alseth when he came some 3,500 miles and come visit him in person. It left an impression on Alseth, all but solidifying his college decision. A few weeks later, he committed to Syracuse without having set foot on campus.
“If Ian had not come, we don’t know what would be,” John said.
Ally Moreo | Asst. Photo Editor
Soccer is in the blood of many Norwegians. Alseth’s father signed him up to start playing when he was 5 or 6. By his teenage years, he got good enough to travel with one of Norway’s best teams, which he led to two Under-19 national championships. Plastered on his bedroom walls were Chelsea F.C. photos. For years, he dreamed of reaching professional soccer.
A rep from College Scholarships USA visited Alseth’s high school in his senior year. The program seeks soccer talent around the globe, introducing players to scholarships in the U.S. Alseth had loosely considered U.S. college soccer before.
That day seemed to cement his desire to leave Norway for the U.S, although he and his father said it wasn’t the only thing that had factored into his decision. He didn’t get recruited until his senior year, and even then the interest didn’t always seem genuine. Overlooked early, Alseth had posted highlights online but an injury that winter turned programs off. Coaches wanted to see him practice live.
His high school coach allowed Alseth to play in the game McIntyre attended while still recovering from an injury. McIntyre offered Alseth a scholarship a few weeks later.
The midfielder grasped McIntyre’s system right away, settling at midfield after stints at more defensive-minded positions. During his freshman season, McIntyre called him “one of the better right backs in our conference.” McIntyre has added in recent weeks that Alseth is smarter than he is talented, marveling at his field awareness. His play, McIntyre and players said, is nuanced and well formulated.
Alseth’s always been about control. He’s never been afraid of heights, his parents said. Once at an Opera House when he turned 13, he balanced on the edge of a roof 11 or 12 meters high.
“We said that’s quite high, come down,” John, Alseth’s father, told him.
“No, no, no, I have control,” Alseth replied.
“He’s always in control,” his father said.
Tony D. Curtis | Staff Photographer
On the soccer field, even in times of chaos, Alseth brings a calming influence, which may come from his family. His father works as a financial controller for Toyota and his mother, Signe, is an intensive care nurse.
Against No. 2 Wake Forest last month, Syracuse lost its best defender, Miles Robinson, to a red card in the sixth minute. When the game got chippy, Alseth patted John-Austin Ricks on the back after the freshman lost a 50-50 ball. He put his hands to his side and gestured to the back unit of Ricks, Kamal Miller, Louis Cross to take a step back and reset after a grueling possession.
Half an hour after that game, which ended in a 1-1 tie, Alseth sat tired in the lobby of Ensley Athletic Center. McIntyre walked over and patted his two-year captain on the leg.
“Make sure those guys get taken care of,” McIntyre told him.
He’s made a career of this. Alseth hasn’t complained about a lack of scoring opportunities or defeat, his parents said. He has stayed healthy, and he prides himself on more than just his facilitating. After his sophomore season, he chatted with McIntyre in the coach’s office about being a captain. Through the years, especially the last two, Alseth has provided stability.
“I don’t get too caught up emotionally,” Alseth said. “If times are rough, I help motivate some of the guys. Being a guy your teammates can rely on. A role model. To inspire your teammates to go out there.”
Looking back, his favorite memories hardly involve himself including at Notre Dame last year, when Syracuse captured the ACC title and against Virginia his sophomore year, when Syracuse beat the No. 2 Cavaliers.
In games, he points forward, setting the offense in motion. Moments later, he backpedals, setting up on defense. Alseth takes his shots only when wide open. That’s not to say he doesn’t have an influence on the score sheet.
“He has a lethal right foot, he has ideas,” Syracuse associate head coach Jukka Masalin said. “He can wiggle through guys, he’s a passer, he’s a combiner. It gives us another option in middle field or upfront. The skill level and maturity he brings to the team is very valuable.”
Yet throughout the past year, one thing has nagged Alseth. Despite being on last year’s College Cup team, he remembers his few mistakes clearly.
He coughed up the ball near midfield with less than a minute remaining in a regular-season bout with Clemson last year, allowing the Tigers’ Kyle Murphy to score the game-winner.
He missed a penalty kick in last year’s national semifinal loss to Clemson, too. Alseth exited Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City last December disheartened.
One year later, he’s driven by that moment. The forward-thinking Alseth wants nothing less than another crack at the College Cup. He’s concerned with the legacy of this Syracuse team and how he can help avenge that loss.
“I felt like I had let the team down,” Alseth said. “I think it’s just you use it as motivation to try to get back there and play again. Because that hasn’t stopped bothering me since. And unless we get redemption this year, it probably never will.”
Published on November 7, 2016 at 11:12 pm