Djordje Petrovic is a “real goalkeeper” who “isn’t afraid of anything,” according to his former coach Ilija Stolica.
On Tuesday, the New England Revolution signed Petrovic to a three-year contract with an additional one-year option. The 22-year-old will soon depart from native Serbia to begin his adventure in the United States. Stolica, who made a similar trip when he joined the Revs in 2010, is excited to see what happens next.
Stolica provided insight to the club he played for in 2010 and 2011, telling Director of Scouting & Player Personnel Remi Roy and others that Petrovic is “a very good goalkeeper with really great potential.” Having worked with Petrovic at the international level, including coaching him on his senior team debut, Stolica explained that he feels calm when he sees the 6 ‘4 Petrovic in net.
“He’s the kind of keeper that you and the whole team, especially the defense, feels comfortable with when you have him behind you,” Stolica told The Bent Musket. “His defensive skills, how he protects the team, and defensively how he reacts to the side balls, his presence in the defensive way is really great.”
Petrovic is a product of the FK Čukarički Academy and became a full-time starter with the first team ahead of the 2020-21 season. That year he collected 18 clean sheets while going 20-7-7. In sum, he played 86 games in three seasons with FK Čukarički, amassing 33 clean sheets and a 0.99 goals-against average across all competitions.
Stolica views Petrovic as a fearless goalkeeper who “talks a lot with his defensive line” and is willing to “jump out from the goal to stop counter attacks.” He’ll do whatever it takes to keep a clean sheet because “first on his mind is to protect his goal.”
Of course, modern soccer also requires a goalkeeper to be good with his/her feet. Here, Stolica believes that Petrovic will need some work since the build-up play at FK Čukarički was simple.
“He has a lot of potential and a lot of room to develop his offensive skills,” Stolica said. “
So the other part, I think there is still room for him to progress and this is one that gives me perspective that he will go from this moment and he can actually build himself up to the national team level and be a goalkeeper who can always be part of the national team.”
The Revolution’s current first-choice goalkeeper is Matt Turner when he’s healthy. Turner was named as the league’s best netminder in 2021, though he will depart for Arsenal in June. This gives Petrovic two months to adjust to the Revolution way, as well as life in the United States. That said, Petrovic could be called upon earlier since Turner is dealing with an injury.
Stolica is confident that Petrovic will do just fine when it comes to soccer. He’s more concerned about the off-the-field transition, as he found it difficult despite an extensive career that included stops in Spain, Serbia, and Belgium.
“I can tell you from my own perspective, that even at my age–I was at 33-34, let’s say a mature age with a family, with an organized life– I needed like at least two years to adapt myself to live in the U.S. It is a definite cultural difference between Europe and the U.S.,” Stolica said.
Stolica has given Petrovic advice as he prepares for the move. He spent two hours on the phone discussing things like where to live and how to pick an apartment.
Of course, the Revs operate differently now than when Stolica was there more than a decade ago. The club has multiple full-time staff members who help players transition in or out by assisting with travel, housing, and more. All non-English speaking players are offered access to in person or online English lessons that are paid for by the organization. They also have a state-of-the-art training facility that makes the soccer side easier.
“I told him that [the United States is] a different world and he doesn’t need to push himself immediately,” Stolica explained. “I told him that he probably will have at least a few months, a period of adaptation, a period of time where he can learn, listen, and watch what is happening around him. In the part of the football and the pitch itself, he’ll go quickly definitely but everything else he will need to adapt and adjust his habits from here.”
Petrovic “speaks English enough to speak football terms, to order the food, and to ask people simple things” but will need lessons in order to have full conversations. Stolica is confident that Petrovic will pick up the language once he’s fully immersed in it.
Stolica is also confident that Petrovic will be a good fit for the Revolution locker room. He remembers working with Petrovic when he was with the U-21 National Team. He had to split time with another goalkeeper. Although he wanted to play every game, Petrovic was positive and supportive regardless of if he was a starter or reserve.
“You have one kid who is really somebody who was always respected and was really well appreciated inside the locker room,” Stolica said of Petrovic. “He’s somebody who was always really supportive of his teammates.”
Petrovic ultimately graduated to the senior national team with his one cap coming in a 0-0 draw against the Dominican Republic on Jan. 25, 2021. Stolica remembers seeing Petrovic swell with emotion after finding out that he would represent his country at the world’s stage.
Interestingly, Serbia was supposed to play the United States during that window until Covid regulation changed plans. Just over a year later, Petrovic will come to the United States to play in MLS.
Stolica believes that the move to MLS is a good one. The league is growing and Stolica forecasts that “the future of football is going to that part of the world.” In fact, he thinks that Petrovic could play the rest of his career in MLS unless he garners offers from clubs in bigger leagues like England, Germany, or Spain.
“I said to Djordje, ‘Listen, you’re going to the U.S. The only way that you can see yourself coming back is if you’re going to the Premier League, if you’re going to England, maybe Germany, or let’s say Spain. Everything else, it is going to be one level under MLS,” Stolica said.
With Petrovic’s size and experience, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 22 years old. Stolica pointed out that Petrovic would just be leaving college if he followed the typical path of an American.
Petrovic has also never played outside of his native country. Heading to the United States will bring a new host of challenges, both on and off the field.
Head coach Bruce Arena told Zolak & Bertrand, “There are adjustments culturally for players and [adjustments for] our style of play and our team, those type of things. But we think [Petrovic] has the potential to make the adjustment quickly and will certainly threaten to be our first goalkeeper.”
It’s only a matter of time before Petrovic appears in goal for the Revolution and Stolica is certain that the young netminder will be ready when his name is called.
“I definitely believe in him, there is no doubt about it,” Stolica said, noting that Petrovic has played international games with his club team. “But with my experience, I know that he will need time. He won’t be afraid to immediately start in that role and take the challenge, that is for sure, and I hope he will adapt himself as quickly as possible.”
Thank you to Ben Saufley for helping me prepare for this interview.