AMSTERDAM – Now six months into his loan stint with Norwegian side Bodø/Glimt, former Montreal Impact defender Zarek Valentin has nothing but positive news to report.
The 21-year-old has ably worked 22 of 24 league contests for the runaway Adeccoligaen leaders, putting the second-tier club back on the path to promotion to Tippeligaen. But, most importantly, Valentin has gotten the opportunity to work on his development through game experience.
"It's actually really cool," Valentin told MLSsoccer.com from his temporary home in Norway. "It's a very small town – around 40,000, I believe – so the buzz around the team and the way the season is going is super positive."
The team started strong and then pulled away with a league-record 12-game winning streak. With six games to go, Valentin & Co. are just one win away from clinching promotion to the top flight, which has gone on without them since 2009.
"They have a pretty rich history and to be in the second division isn't where they want to be," Valentin said of the outfit locally known as Glimt.
However, the best part of the loan spell has been his personal resurgence. Valentin said regular playing time under manager Jan Halvor Halvorsen has allowed him to return to top form and moved him further along in development.
"I think I kind of really found myself again," he said. "It's been a huge confident boost being here. When you're not playing, it's difficult. Obviously, being behind guys like [Montreal’s] Alessandro Nesta is a great learning experience, but at the end of the day to improve you need minutes.
"The coach here really believes in me. He's allowed me to be me on the field, and it's served me well. I've seen steady improvement in the consistency of my play. In Montreal, I was a little up-and-down."
Halvorsen, a former New York Red Bulls assistant, aimed to draft Valentin out of Akron in 2011, but New York didn't have a pick high enough to grab him. The Pennsylvania native went fourth overall to Chivas USA before being acquired by Montreal last year.
"Lo and behold, I get a call one day asking if I want to go to northern Norway," recalled Valentin.
Naturally, the training methods vary from those in MLS, giving him a chance to build up targeted parts of his game on a regular basis.
"One of them is one-v-one defending," said Valentin. "As an outside back, you can never be complacent about that, you always try to improve that. Also, the consistency of my crosses.”
As for the Impact, Valentin said he's stayed well connected to the team while away. Though Glimt's season ends right as the MLS playoffs are beginning, he said a timely recall from loan is out of the question due to the league's roster deadline.
"But I follow every single game," he said. "I like to see who plays, who scores. I'm still very involved with the team, and I miss the group. I hope they make the playoffs."