New England Revolution team sources confirmed that Danish international striker Radivoje "Rajko" Lekic began a two-day trial with the club today. Steve Nicol and the player personnel team in Foxboro have apparently been keeping tabs on Lekic for some time now. He currently plies his trade at Danish Superliga club Silkeborg IF.
Complete information on Rajko Lekic is pretty difficult to find - his Wikipedia page is just a few sentences and a list of clubs/goals - but from what I've been able to gather he's a handful at 6'2" and 175 lbs. His record also speaks for itself; according to Frank Dell'Apa at the Globe, he's scored 110 goals in 229 professional matches in a career that has taken him through Denmark, Spain and Hungary.
He's also just 29, and still fully in his prime.
There's no confirmation that he'll be signed as the club's first-ever designated player at this point. MLS hasn't seen a DP signed out of Denmark yet, but other players signed out of Scandinavian leagues (or other Scandinavian players, for that matter) haven't commanded a salary commensurate with "Beckham Rule" players. Still, it's important to remember that he could very well be considered a DP due to transfer or loan fees.
With that sort of size it's impossible to avoid assuming he will be used as a foil for Zack Schilawski in a Toshack-Keegan big-little strike partnership. I waxed poetic already about Schilawski's performance as a target man against LA, but the fact of the matter is that bigger and more physical defenders (no one has ever referred to A.J. DeLaGarza as big, not even Verne Troyer) will be able to muscle him off the ball. Schilawski is far better suited to collecting the passes and knockdowns a larger striker could provide.
Of course, this brings up an interesting question: if the Revs sign Lekic, are Ilija Stolica's days in New England numbered?
More after the jump.
Stolica was brought in midway through last season to provide stability in the Revolution's strike force. He was a known quantity who had scored a lot of goals in the past and had the ability and intelligence to use his big frame to hold the ball and bring other players into the game.
He wasn't a smashing success (three goals in 14 appearances), but anyone with half a brain could tell that he was bringing things to the table that didn't show up in the box score. Still, with a salary that runs over $200,000, it's fair to assume that the Revolution organization expects more out of him this season.
That brings us to First Kick 2011. Steve Nicol elected to run out a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation that positively screamed for a target striker of Stolica's supposed caliber. Instead, he started Zack Schilawski, and Ilija remained firmly rooted to the bench as the Revs fought to a 1-1 draw. The selection could have been attributed to any number of things, but when you factor in the team's interest in Lekic it starts to look like a death knell.
Let's assume for a moment that the two of them cannot coexist on the roster. Lekic is the obvious choice over Stolica for a number of reasons. He's younger (Stolica is 31), a little bigger and has a much better career scoring record (Stolica has scored somewhere in the neighborhood of 102 goals in 287 appearances). All signs point to better chances of success with Lekic.
That doesn't mean that Stolica is a goner if Lekic is signed. Keep in mind, Lekic is a player the Revs thought they had locked up a few months ago but the deal fell through. There weren't any rumors of the Revolution shopping around Stolica or preparing to cut him loose then, so it wouldn't be ridiculous to think that they could hold onto both players.
Rajko Lekic's success in MLS is also not a foregone conclusion. Examination of Lekic's goalscoring history reveals an interesting nugget of information: he's rarely performed well outside of Denmark.
According to research (read: Wikipedia), Lekic has managed a very credible 106 goals in 169 Danish league appearances. During his short forays into Spain (Xerez) and Hungary (Zalaegerszegi), he scored just 8 in 52.
What that means is anybody's guess. He could have walked into poor situations, never adapted to differing styles of play (I don't think anyone has ever said that the style in Denmark is similar to that in Spain), or just had plain bad luck. But it does suggest that Lekic has difficulty being effective away from home, and that could be worrying.
He's also struggled a bit this season. In the 2010/2011 Superliga campaign Lekic has made 19 appearances and managed just 4 goals. Last season, he made no substitute appearances and started 32 matches; this season he has started 11 and been subbed on in 8. The reason for that is another mystery, as my limited ability to read Danish makes it difficult to find pertinent information.
We'll be sure to keep you posted on the status and outcome of his short trial but, for now, even amid questions of Stolica's future or Lekic's ability to get it done in MLS, there is cause to be excited.
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