Jakob Glesnes is Iron Man.
Not an actual Avenger from the Marvel Universe, but the Philadelphia Union defender has been a superhero of consistency.
On Saturday, the center back made his 100th consecutive start, in the Union’s 2-2 draw against FC Cincinnati.
The 29-year-old Norwegian became the sixth player in Major League Soccer history to reach the milestone. The list includes four goalkeepers, led by former New York Red Bulls standout Luis Robles, who leads MLS with 183 consecutive starts.
Glesnes’ streak started on Sept. 6, 2020, in a 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, not long after joining the Union from Strømsgodset in Norway’s first division.
“He plays through soreness and pain as well as anybody,” Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin said. “And again, I’ve relied in some ways, probably too much on him this year to start games because we are just better when he’s on the field. His vocal leadership, his willingness to train hard every day and show young players the way, he doesn’t let them have days off on the training field.”
Starting 100 consecutive games proves a few things about Glesnes — he’s managed to remain healthy despite the physical rigors of his position and he’s earned the right to be in Curtin’s starting XI every matchday.
“Being on the field every day, training, getting the continuity, the reps with your teammates is so important,” Curtin said. “And we stay pretty healthy as a group, so we get to know each other well. And Jacob, that 100 games consecutive in league is a pretty special mark to hit. He doesn’t know who Cal Ripken is, but it’s Cal Ripken-ish.”
Glesnes hasn’t just written his name in ink on Curtin’s lineup card every week, but he’s been among the league’s best defenders. He was named the 2022 MLS Defender of the Year, the first Philadelphia player to earn that honor, and an MLS Best XI selection last year. Glesnes has also been named an MLS All-Star for two years running.
The Union signed Glesnes to a new contract in March, a deal that keeps him in Philadelphia through 2025 with a club option for 2026. It was his second contract extension — the first coming in Dec. 2021.
“I believe if you do work hard on the practice field, you do the honest work in the weight room,” Curtin said. “These are the types of players that, knock on wood, don’t need the load management or the off days or the rest. Yes, he does have little things going on, little nicks that maybe would keep other people out, but he’s a real testament to the old-school defenders that like to defend first are so vital to our team.”
Curtin should know. He anchored the Chicago Fire backline from 2001-08, making 151 regular season appearances. Curtin started 22 consecutive in 2002 and every match in 2003, alongside former US men’s national team standout Carlos Bocanegra.
He was named an MLS All-Star in 2004 and spent his final two seasons with Chivas USA.
“The vocal leaders are a dying breed in our game,” Curtin said. “We’re really fortunate that we have a lot of guys that are comfortable wearing that captain’s armband and have worn it in the past. A guy like Jakob was captain of his teams in his early 20s, which speaks to the type of person and character he has.”
Glesnes started his professional career in his native Norway. He went on several trials, including with famed Liverpool in the English Premier League, before joining Sarpsborg 08 where he made his first-tier debut in March 2016.
A year later, Glesnes was named captain at Strømsgodsetand scored his first goal for the club two months later. He’s part of the Union’s leadership council, which includes three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya.
“Leadership is, I’ll just say, a lost art, maybe a little bit of a dying art,” Curtin said. “More now it’s by committee, but we actually still have some of those vocal leaders now, also show it by example and how they play, for sure, but we’re fortunate to have those vocal leaders as well. So Jakob does a great job of that.”
Although his main job is to keep the opponent from scoring, Glesnes has scored some sensational goals, his first a free kick from more than 35 yards out against LAFC. He scored another long-distance free kick against the Red Bulls in the first round of the 2021 MLS Cup playoffs, helping Philadelphia earn a berth in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
This year, Glesnes’ durability has been put to the test, with the Union competing on multiple fronts, reaching the Concacaf Champions League semifinals and the Leagues Cup quarterfinals, as well as the US Open Cup and of course a 32-match MLS regular season.
Glesnes has also been a driving force in the Union’s ascension to becoming one of the league’s elite teams. He helped the club win the Supporters’ Shield in 2020 and reach the MLS Cup final last year, when the Union lost to LAFC on penalty kicks.
“I think he might have almost 40 starts already this year, which is an insane number,” Curtin said. “So, yeah, great season so far for Jacob. He wants to end it the right way, has been a Defender of the Year last year, and again, can’t speak enough to the importance of that. Ability is one thing, right? And he has incredible ability. I think the accolades that he’s won and the respect of the league that he’s gotten shows that. But a lost art in this game is your durability.”