The Stony Brook men’s soccer team has been budding and is slowly working its way into the America East title conversation. That is because head coach Ryan Anatol has stuck with the same group of players in the same formation for most of the past few seasons.
One offseason acquisition has changed that system for the Seawolves: transfer and graduate forward Robin Bjornholm-Jatta, who is now in the starting lineup.
“It was a big positive getting [Bjornholm-Jatta] here in January,” Anatol said. “The big challenge with college soccer sometimes is getting time with the new players. So it was a big positive to get him here and getting him accustomed to the way we play, the way we practice, getting to know the guys and building relationships.”
Since the arrival of Bjornholm-Jatta, Stony Brook is having its best start since 2004, opening the season with a 5-1-1 overall record. Bjornholm-Jatta’s skill set and style of play has given the team another striker to play up top alongside senior forward Vince Erdei, who was the lone striker during the 2016 season.
“I think it’s getting better every day. We’re starting to bond more and get into the plans and tactics more,” Bjornholm-Jatta said on his relationship with Erdei. “We’re all on the same page. We’re still improving, and I think that’s a good thing because there’s more good to come from us, so that’s very positive.”
The forward’s stats are not reflective of to the way he has impacted the Seawolves. Despite having two goals on the season, Bjornholm-Jatta has been one of the most consistent players on the field.
His ability to find the open man on the field, strength in getting past defenders hunkering down on him, speed and soccer IQ all come into play the moment he steps on the field. That has not gone unnoticed.
“Robin fits into how we want to play,” Anatol said. “He’s understanding how we want to play. In soccer, you can play so many formations, so many different styles and everybody does it differently. We knew the qualities he had, so it was just him needing to understand how we play. The more games we are getting under his belt, the more he’s understanding.”
While Bjornholm-Jatta needed to quickly build a relationship with Erdei, he was not coming over to Stony Brook without any connections.
The forward played alongside junior midfielder Serge Gamwanya and fifth year defender Lars Togstad as a part of Rosenborg BK, the most successful Norwegian professional soccer team. There, Bjornholm-Jatta played for Rosenborg BK for five years and helped the team win the 2011 and 2012 Eliteserien league championships.
Several games into his Stony Brook career, however, Bjornholm-Jatta noticed some differences in the style of play of college soccer.
“In Norway, the general player is more tactical. While here, the player is more physical,” Bjornholm-Jatta said. “You have more extreme players. Either they’re small and tactical, or they’re big, strong and fast. The biggest difference is also the rules. There’s high tempo throughout the game because of unlimited subs. I’d say that’s a big difference for me.”
The physicality of college soccer players in the United States does not phase the forward, but developing the endurance of playing multiple games in a week is something he is still getting adjusted to.
“I think, for me, that’s kind of the way I played back home,” Bjornholm-Jatta said about his style of play. “So the transition for me wasn’t that big. However, I’m not used to playing the amount of games in the fall in that short time period. So the fact that you have to get your body back into shape so quickly is the biggest difference for me.”
While Bjornholm-Jatta is still getting accustomed to the college soccer schedule, he has shown no signs that the work rate is holding him back. As an experienced player overseas, Bjornholm-Jatta has quickly found a place on the Seawolves offense alongside Erdei. His play has greatly benefitted Erdei, as he has already netted four goals on the season. Erdei co-led the team with senior midfielder Thibault Duval with six goals last season.
As conference play gets closer, Bjornholm-Jatta continues to work his way into the Stony Brook offense and help the team become better as a whole.