Viktor’s voice helps drive the Wildcats
At halftime in a men’s football pre-season scrimmage against George Mason, the alternate official asked the official scorer a question.
“Did your guy in the back graduate?” He asked. “It was quite calm there in the first half.”
For those who have spent time watching Villanova Soccer over the past three seasons, it quickly became apparent who the official was referring to. Senior central defender Viktor Benediktsson has been a stalwart backwall stingy for the Wildcats since arriving in the United States from his native Iceland in 2019. Last season, he played a vital role in helping the ‘Cats reach the NCAA Tournament and then helped to shut out Vermont 1-0 for the first NCAA win in program history. On Monday, he was in his usual place in front of the goalkeeper kent dicky as he posted the first shutout of 2022 in a 4-0 win over Northwestern.
This skill comes with a style that can best be described as animated.
Is Viktor vocal?
“Viktor”, says a classmate Josh Belluz“is one of a kind. Wherever I’ve played, I’ve never had that voice in my team. Having that, I think, is a really good thing. I think it just adds more confidence to the team. We have a diverse group of personalities and Viktor keeps us locked in. As a player, he’s fearless.”
The character on the field is a reflection of the off-field. Benediktsson is outgoing and eager to engage with strangers or friends. Consider his take on the conclusion of his freshman year, abruptly ended by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When a roommate caught the virus, he was forced to self-isolate at the university health center for 10 days despite not testing positive. The rest of the student population had gone home and there was a lot of uncertainty about when he could return to Iceland.
“For me, looking back, it’s not about being negative about this situation,” says Benediktsson, the eldest of three children of Benedikt Ivarsson and Idunn Kjartansdottir. “It was an experience I had and I have the nurses and staff to thank. We were treated very well. Now when I go to the health center I have friends to talk to.”
It is therefore natural that the energy spills over onto the pitch. On most match or practice days, Benediktsson can be heard directing traffic and urging his teammates with something louder than a church whisper. Sometimes he will have a word for his coaches. From time to time, he can give his opinion to the officials or even to an opponent. This is usually done with a smile and always with passion.
“Growing up in the Icelandic mentality is always going through it,” he says. “Being vocal helps that and it’s something I’ve been doing since I was 13 or 14. We’ve always been encouraged to do that as players.”
Benediktsson’s introduction to football came quite early. While living in England before reaching kindergarten, his parents brought him to a Premier League match featuring Tottenham against West Ham.
“I was a very difficult child to raise,” he says with a smile. “I had a lot of energy. My mum used to take me out onto a pitch to let me run and kick the ball. But after going to that Premier League game there was no turning back.”
Shortly after his fourth birthday, the family moved back to Iceland to a village of 300 people. There were so few people that his first organized football was against players three or four years older than him.
Two years later, the family moved to the capital region surrounding Reykjavik. This presented more football opportunities. Bendiktsson began training with a top club team and quickly rose through the ‘A’ unit. At the age of 13, he began to harbor hopes of making the Icelandic national team. He then played for the U17 national team before eventually earning a place in the U19 team.
At 18, he was loaned to an Icelandic second division club. He thrived in his first year and was planning to stay for another season when his coach left. He followed the coach to a new team an hour away and, for the first time, walked away from home.
A year later, he was pondering his next step in the offseason at the age of 19. It was January in Iceland, with lots of snow and cold. A football friend offered him a spot in two exhibition games to play in front of several American college coaches. Benediktsson opted to participate largely in a quest to get a few minutes on the pitch as he considered his next move.
“I played those two games and didn’t really think about it anymore,” he said.
Benediktsson had the chance to train with a club in Sweden for two weeks that winter. At that time, he expected to sign a professional contract with the club. While waiting for the documents to arrive, he received a text message from the head coach of Villanova Tom Carlin. Carlin asked if he would be willing to meet him at the Icelandic airport at a juice bar/café, “Joe and the Juice.”
“I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check that out,” Benediktsson says. “I brought my parents and we met Coach Carlin. When he finishes the conversation, he says: ‘I have to catch my flight. It told me that he believed in me if he was so willing to go out of his way to meet me. Moreover, he managed to convince my mother. If you convinced my mother, then I’ve been sold.
Just seven months later, Benediktsson’s flight touched down at Philadelphia International Airport in August 2019 ahead of the start of the fall semester. Aside from two previous Florida vacations, this was brand new territory.
“Apart from Disney World”, he quips, “I hadn’t seen much of the United States”
Three weeks later, Benediktsson was playing NCAA Division I regular season games and attending classes as a freshman. In the first case, he quickly made a place for himself in the starting lineup among a long list of newcomers which also included Belluz, Lyam MacKinnon, Anthony Dragisic, Ricca Gray and Marcus Brenes. The adjustment in the classroom was a bit more daunting.
“Even though my English was okay,” he explains, “it was different studying in English the first two semesters. I took a philosophy course and I didn’t even understand some words in Icelandic. had to translate it first, get the definition, then write the English.”
That said, his outgoing style helped him make friends quickly on campus.
“This is the fifth country I live in,” he notes. “I like new experiences and new adventures. The whole Villanova family in general helps a lot. We immediately felt at home.”
There were some cultural adjustments to be made.
“Everything,” he says, “is bigger. There are 50 kinds of cereals in the store. All flavors. I went to the King of Prussia mall and it was more crowded than in my hometown in Iceland.”
His teammates helped ease the adjustment. The senior group is particularly close and presents a range of personalities. Bendiktsson – who moved to centre-back in his second year and has held a host of positions during his career – has also formed a close bond with the former goalkeeper carson williams. In fact, his iPhone home screen is an image of the two hugging after VU beat Seton Hall 1-0 in the regular season finale to secure a spot in the BIG EAST playoffs. last November.
“Awards and records are always fun,” he says of a 12-8-1 campaign, “but what stood out to me the most about last season was that we did it with this group. Coming with my classmates and accomplishing this meant a Most people won’t remember the record we had in five or 10 years. But we’ll all remember the team we did it with and the work we have done.
In 2022, the Wildcats kicked off with a two-game trip to Stanford and California before recording victory over Northwestern. With 10 returning starters – only Williams has moved on – there’s plenty the group hopes to build on with a 1-1-1 record. The next stop will be Sunday at Yale at 5 p.m.
“We got a lot out of the trip to California,” notes Bendiktsson. “We found a certain way to play. We had a lot of group activity. Personally, I wish I hadn’t lost a game there, but I think it has given us a lot for the rest of the season. I think we saw it in the Northwestern game.
“A good man once said to me, ‘Aim for the sky and you’ll hit the roof. Aim for the roof and you won’t get anywhere. “For me, I’m aiming for the sky to do better than we did last year.”
Majoring in communication, Benediktsson will graduate in December. At this point, he will assess the landscape of professional football, the leap he nearly took before receiving Carlin’s text. This opportunity could arise in the United States or perhaps in Sweden, Norway or his native Iceland.
Although much remains to be determined, Benediktsson is confident that the game he started embracing at the age of three will remain a part of his life.
“No matter what I do, I will always be connected to football in one way or another,” he says.
He has already obtained two coaching diplomas. The prospect of entering this field or perhaps a related field like scouting or management can also be appealing.
Over the next few months, however, Viktor’s voice will continue to be heard, especially on game days.
“I’ve always been a social person,” he says. “I talk a lot, sometimes too much. When I got here, I was like, ‘You don’t know anyone. That’s a good thing because now you meet a lot of people.’ Coming to Villanova as an international student, you need so many things that you don’t know how to get. From day one, there are so many people here to help you. It doesn’t matter who you talk to. Villanova, everyone is there for you.
“I have friends all over campus. Athletes in other sports. Students who aren’t athletes. Being able to meet so many great people has probably been the most important thing to me.”
For his part, Belluz isn’t sure that words are enough to describe his friend.
“I think I’m pretty good at analyzing people,” the Toronto elder said. “There are just no words to describe Viktor. You just have to meet him and have a conversation with him to appreciate the kind of guy he is. I think all of us in the team will say that ‘He’s one of a kind.”
When the Wildcats return to the Higgins Soccer Complex for their next home game Wednesday against NJIT at 4 p.m., you might hear one voice above the rest. Chances are it belongs to the Icelandic original, Viktor Benediktsson.