As part of Goal.com’s exclusive coverage in the lead-up to the 2010 World Cup, we introduce a new series, “Where Would The USA Be Without...?”, exploring the influence of various countries and immigrant populations on US soccer.
The United States Men's National Team never met Yugoslavia nor any of the republics when it came to international play (although that will change this summer when the Stars and Stripes take on Slovenia in South Africa) but nonetheless, the Central European country played a big role in the development of soccer in America. (Update: The U.S. and Yugoslavia played during the 1998 World Cup while Croatia defeated the U.S. 2-1 in Zagreb in the country's first international match.)
Players and coaches with Yugoslavian connections litter both past and present of U.S. football, but the first link occurred 80 years ago when the two nations participated in the 1930 World Cup. While the Red, White, and Blue and Yugoslavia didn't meet, they both reached the semifinals before falling by a 6-1 margin to Argentina and eventual champion Uruguay, respectively. Despite the lack of an official third-place match, FIFA declared the Americans the higher finisher due to an overall better record during the entire tournament. Yugoslavia would go on to reach the quarterfinals four times and the semifinals once before the country broke up into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. (Serbia is considered the official successor.)
Bora. Bora. Bora. The coaching legacy of Yugoslavia, at least in relation to the United States, generally begins and ends with Velibor "Bora" Milutinovic. The Serbian-born enigma brought the Americans to the 1994 World Cup, one of the record five sides he's led to international soccer's promised land. (Mexico, Costa Rica, Nigeria, and China are the others).
Milutinovic helmed the U.S. squad from 1991-1995, posting a 30-25-31 record. The Stars and Stripes went 1-2-1 during the '94 tournament, qualifying for the second round, where they fell to eventual champion Brazil. The U.S. Soccer Federation showed Milutinovic the door because, if his claims are to be believed, he refused to take a larger role in the development of the sport. The Serbian also holds the dubious distinction of piloting Major League Soccer's MetroStars to the worst record in league history during the 1999 season (4-3-25).
Predrag "Preki" Radosavljevic is the most successful American footballer of Yugolavian decent. While playing for Red Star Belgrade, a chance meeting with Tacoma Stars manager Bob McNab at a tournament in Belgrade led Preki to the indoor club where he morphed into a star. He eventually moved to Everton and Portsmouth before joining the Kansas City Wizards for Major League Soccer's inaugural season in 1996. Known for his vicious left foot, Preki played in MLS for 10 years, netting 79 goals and dishing out 112 assists in 242 matches. He won the MVP and the scoring title in 1997 and 2003.
Preki retired in 2005 and joined Chivas USA as an assistant the next year before taking the top job at the club in 2007 when Bob Bradley left for the U.S. team. He currently coaches Toronto FC. For his adopted country -- Preki earned his citizenship in 1996 and made his first appearance in a U.S. uniform nine days later -- the midfielder figured in 28 matches, including two during the 1998 World Cup. He scored the game-winning goal against Brazil during the semifinal of the '98 Gold Cup.
Ante Razov came along more than 10 years after Preki, but his impact on American soccer is almost as great. Although the six-foot, one-inch striker was born in Whittier, California, he's the son of Croatian immigrants and has spent almost his entire playing career in MLS. He served under Preki during the latter's tenure at Chivas and continues to man the Goats' frontline. Razov's 114 regular-season goals trail only Jaime Moreno on the all-time list. While he never made a World Cup roster, the striker earned 25 caps and netted six goals.
And then, there's the saga of Neven Subotic. Born in Yugoslavia, the towering defender ended up in Bradenton, Florida with his family (his sister was attending the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy) where U.S. U-17 assistant Keith Fulk spotted Subotic training and offered the youngster a tryout. Subotic passed the test, joining the residency program and playing on the U-17 side as well as the U-20 team. A falling out with Thomas Rongen eventually led to Subotic joining the Serbian National Team, where he's begun to establish himself despite occasional shaky play.
There aren't any, but this summer's fixture between the U.S. and Slovenia looks like the key match in Group C. The tilt, held on June 18 at Johannesburg's Ellis Park, will likely determine the second-place finisher. The Americans will be coming off their opening game against England and could be desperate for three points, while the European side could book their place in the second round with a victory. The U.S. will be favored, but only just.
California-born Sacha Kljestan's father, Slavko, played semi-professionally for FC Željezničar Sarajevo. Although his son likely won't make the World Cup roster this time around, he's made 23 appearances for Bradley and he's only 24 years old. At the very least, he will play a role in qualifying for Brazil 2014.
Considering FIFA's ever-loosening rules about country affiliation, there should be more cases such as Subotic's where a promising child can represent multiple countries. Getting these players to choose the U.S. will be a key for the development of soccer in America.
Noah Davis (@noahedavis) covers the United States Men's National Team for Goal.com and will be reporting from the World Cup in South Africa.
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