It has been a long and winding road to the Russian Premier League for Eugene Starikov who is seeking to play at the highest level for both his club and the United States.
Starikov was born in the former Soviet Union in the city of Odessa, now part of the Ukraine. At an early age, he moved with his parents to Florida where he went to high school in Palm Harbor and then elected to play college soccer at Stetson.
Even though his time at the central Florida university was a brief one, Starikov says that he learned important life lessons while playing for the Hatters before leaving for Russia during the 2008 season.
"Stetson was a great experience for me, even though I only played there for one season and four games my sophomore year," Starikov recalled to YA. "It gave me an opportunity to feel what it's like to live on my own without my parents, so that definitely helped me before coming to Russia."
The forward evidently got the attention of officials at Zenit St. Petersburg who scooped up Starikov and added him to their youth team for the 2009 RPL season.
Although the transition to playing professionally and living in Russia has had its ups and downs, the 21 year old does not hesitate when saying it was the best decision he could have made for his career.
"The reason why I left [Stetson] was because I got the invitation from Zenit to go and play there," Starikov continued. "It was not an easy transition in the beginning because Russia is a different country. And growing up in the States, I had some ideas of what Russia was like as my family traveled several times back to Russia to visit my grandparents. But it's one thing to visit and a different thing to live there.
"Thankfully I know the language fluently and communication was no problem. It was just the fact that growing up in the States I have a different mentality than people in Russia. But honestly, I do not regret anything and I am very happy with my decision and it has been a great experience so far."
Joining the 2008 UEFA Cup champions was certainly the opportunity of a lifetime and immediately the Sunshine State native was immersed with various big names including Russian national team players Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Konstantin Zyryanov.
The five foot eight inch attacker was unfazed by his surroundings and booked a solid first season with the club's youth team where he scored six goals ion 22 matches.
"The biggest thing I learned playing in Zenit is that the difference between the youth team and the first team really isn't that big," he explained. "A lot of it has to do with being trusted by the coach, the players and the club. With their trust, obviously you gain confidence. And with confidence it's all up to you from there. So I guess knowing that it's realistic to play with the first team, gave me confidence in myself and that helped a lot."
Fellow RPL club FC Tom Tomsk saw enough of the confident Starikov to make a move to acquire the young playmaker on a one year loan deal.
Starikov joins a club that has never finished higher than eighth in the RPL standings, but still has aspirations to make a run towards a top five finish under the watchful eye of legendary coach Valeri Nepomniachi who guided the Cameroonian national team to the quarterfinals of the 1990 World Cup.
Like last season with Zenit's youth team, Starikov's aspirations for 2010 are clearly defined.
"This year my main goal is to become a consistent player in the first team here in Tomsk. I hope to start playing in every match with the team and eventually become a starter. But for now my most ambitious goal is to make my debut in the Russian Premier League. Hopefully this will happen soon and from there, I will be able to work in training to become a more consistent player."
Starikov's story has grabbed the attention of American soccer fans whom have been left wondering who exactly is this young player impressing at one of Europe's biggest clubs.
Questions as to whether or not he is a US citizen have largely gone unanswered until now as Starkov is finally able to set the record straight on his citizenship status and his international intentions.
"Yes, I am a USA citizen and if contacted by the United States Soccer Federation, of course I would definitely consider playing for the US national team if the offer would come," he clarified. "It's every [soccer] players dream to play for their country and represent it in the best way possible, so with that said, I would love to play for the [US] national team!
Through two matches this season, Starikov has yet to make his RPL debut and will hope to do so this weekend when they take on Krylya Sovetov.