Only in sports could someone be considered an elder statesman at the age of 30.
Jakob Fenger isn't old, but his years of experience and maturity are valuable to a Nashville Metros team where most of the players are still in their early to mid-20's.
The forward from Aarhus, Denmark, showed just how valuable he has become to his side with a two-goal performance in a 2-1 victory last Friday against the Atlanta Silverbacks that gave him A-League Player of the Week honors (the second straight week that has happened to Nashville - fellow forward Jeff Houser was previously the league's top player). He shows it every day in practice as well, not only working to improve his game but also working to get the best out of those around him.
"He's good for the young boys we've got. We've got a lot of young players, and he spends time talking with them and guiding them in the right direction. He's a very good overall leader," coach Brett Mosen said.
"I try to work with the younger players, to let them know what to expect," Fenger said. "It's all part of the process or developing, of becoming more consistent with our play.
"We still have work to do, but we're making progress."
Fenger has played soccer for much of his three decades, starting in his hometown with amateur and professional clubs before playing at Lindsey-Wilson College and then for the A-League's now-defunct Hampton Roads Mariners. He has played at more than one position and enjoys the chance to get on the pitch no matter where he ends up on it.
"I feel like I belong up front (as a forward), but I'm comfortable playingin the middle either on the right or left side," said Fenger, who saw time as a midfielder in recent years. He actually began his playing time in Denmark as a defender before injuries on his team gave him the chance to play the position he now relishes.
Nashville's strong start (its 4-2, 18-point record in currently the league's best) certainly has made things enjoyable. Are Fenger and his mates having fun?
"Absolutely. Every time we go out on the field, we're having a good time out there," he answered. "We might be hard on each other, but we're having a good time, having a laugh even in the heat of the game. That creates the togetherness that we have out there."
His coach appreciates Fenger's attitude and work ethic. "To have Jakob right now is great, because he's been there, he's done it, and he's a real leader.
He's motivated, he gets players up for the game, he's the kind of character you want in the changing room," Mosen said. "And what he preaches he practices. His work rate on the field is outstanding. I don't think there's another player at his position in the A-League who works as hard as he does, closing defenders down and not letting them play.
"He's a pleasure to work with. He's always looking to do more in practice, he doesn't want to come out of a game. I don't think I've ever seen him have a terrible game, because he gets over things very quickly. If he makes a mistake, he'll get over it because he wants to do better the next time. He's a great guy, a pleasure off the field and on the field."
What is different about playing here as opposed to Denmark, where Fenger spent eight seasons with a pro team? "The style of play in Denmark is very tactical. You stick to one tactic. Your coach says, 'This is how you're going to play,' and you play that way," Fenger said. "It's like when you make a run. You know where your teammates are supposed to be, and if they're not there, you know that the coach is going to yell at them, even if you don't. It's very structured. It's easy to play once you learn it. It's also a very physical game, more than it is here.
"Here it's much more technical. A lot of American players have great skills. I think in ten or fifteen years, when many of today's players are coaching, their players will really benefit, because they will be getting the tactics these players are now learning to go along with the technical skills. I think tactics are really the only thing American soccer's lacking now."
Fenger may have thoughts about soccer's future here, but he is squarely focused on the present task of winning games in the A-League. He's grateful for the honor bestowed on him this week, but it's certainly not something that's gone to his head.
"It's a real honor, but I think it reflects on the team. We're playing together and awards like that happen when you're successful as a team," Fenger said.
WILL THEY ALSO FIRE ON FORT SUMTER? Nashville now takes on the second-place Charleston (S.C.) Battery in a road match at kicks off at 6:30 PM CDT in Blackbaud Stadium. The Battery are 3-2 with 14 points.
"We're looking forward to playing in a fantastic stadium against a good side," defender/midfielder James Wall said. "We've shown we can play well against good teams. We just need to go there and get the win and work to stay atop the league."
The game will be textcast live on the Nashville Metros web site (http://www.nashvillemetros.com ).
GO RICHMOND! If the Richmond Kickers can beat the Atlanta Silverbacks Friday night, the Metros could qualify for the U.S. Open Cup national soccer championships by beating the D-3 Pro League's Geenville Lions at home June1.
Atlanta will earn a qualifying berth instead if they down Richmond. Nashville played to a 0-0 draw at Greenville May 13.
THAT'S JAYMI, NO E, BAILEY Midfielder Jaymi Bailey also made the A-League's honor roll by being selected to the team of the week. He had a goal and assist in the Metros 3-1 win over the Silverbacks on Saturday.