BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, May 16, 2011
While Americans playing overseas have not found much success playing in Eastern Europe, Danijal Brkovic is trying to break out with FK Velez Mostar in the Bosnia Herzegovina Premier League.
Brkovic, 19, was born in Dubrovnik, Croatia in 1991 but moved Binghamton, New York when he was nine and eventually became an American citizen. After a successful high school career where he played both center forward and left wing, Brkovic headed to Europe to try to begin a professional career.
"I played for Johnson City High school [in Binghamton]," Brkovic told YA."I hold the record in scoring goals. After high school, my dad and I decided for me to give it a try to play professional soccer in Europe. Going to college was definitely an option but at the end we decided for me to go to Europe because people told me I was very talented at soccer."
Brkovic settled in with FK Velez in Mostar, Bosnia which is where his mother was born and his grandparents still live. After playing with the youth team for the first few months, he signed a first team professional contract late in 2010 that runs through the end of the 2012 season.
"My grandparents live in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina," Brkovic discussed. "After high school I went to visit them for a vacation and while I was there, I decided to go and try out for FK Velez. I played three games for the juniors and then I got called up for the first team."
When Brkovic was promoted to the first team, he found himself on a very experienced FK Velez team that was filled with players who have been professionals for years.
Playing time was sporadic for Brkovic who played in three first team games with his most recent coming in April. Soon after that, he was injured in practice and would miss the final games of the season.
Brkovic is now recovering in Binghamton but will be ready by this summer when he returns to Bosnia to begin his professional season. FK Velez currently sits in 14th place in the 16 team league but they are safely 12 points clear of the relegation zone.
Despite playing in only three games for the first team, Brkovic is happy with how things went in his first professional season because it was a great learning experience and he is a better player now than when he arrived.
"My season was good, I'm happy with it," Brkovic stated. "Even though I'm a professional soccer player, I still learn something new every day. Yes, I became a better player and definitely developed as a player."
Brkovic is a dual national with both Bosnia and the United States. While he has not played for either country at any level, it remains his dream to play international soccer and would play for the United States if asked.
Brkovic is aware he must significantly breakthrough at Velez to get on the radar for the US Olympic team but he is confident in his creativity on the field, and his strengths as a player to score goals.
"My strengths on the field are speed, dribbling and the fact I play with both legs so it gives me a good advantage to get by defenders and to score goals," Brkovic described of his playing style.
While this season has been primarily a learning experience for Brkobic, things should change for him next season.
He has already had discussions with head coach Milomir Odovic who informed him that the club wants to have a younger team for the 2011/12 season to make a push to finish in the top half of the standings. Brkovic is confident that he will see an increased role next year.
"My main goal for the next season is for my team to be near the top of the table," Brkovic concluded. "Some old players will retire after this season so the coach will be looking forward to make a young team and hope to do better than before."