Soccer a comfort in the face of war

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - When Sinisa Ubiparipovic came to the United States in 1999, he had seen more adversity in his first 15 years than any young athlete should have to.

Born in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ubiparipovic and his family fled to Belgrade and then eventually to the U.S. to escape the war that had torn apart their country for years.

"There were obviously some really bad experiences with the war," Ubiparipovic said. "We were moving around a lot to escape some of the bad experiences of the war, so we never really got to get used to any one place for too long. On the other hand, we had some good experiences as well. For instance, we were still going to school and playing soccer, which really helped us to find some sense of normalcy."

As they settled in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, the land of opportunity presented itself with positives and negatives. The positive for Ubiparipovic was that he could play soccer and go to school at the same time. The negatives were that he did not understand the culture or the language.

"I studied German in school so when I came over I didn't really know any English," Ubiparipovic said. "So the first year in high school, I was getting to know a new culture and a new language. I think it took me at most six months to learn how to communicate with people, which made for some hard times, but after a while it got easier."

After adjusting to his new surroundings and the language barrier, Ubiparipovic began to excel in the classroom and on the field. However, one of his biggest adjustments he had to make was in his style of play that had brought with him from Bosnia.

"In my opinion, the soccer over there is based on technical ability, where as over here the system is a lot different and a little slower," Ubiparipovic said.

With that in mind, Ubiparipovic started to adjust his technical abilities and how he would attack his opponents from the midfield in order to hopefully pursue a career in soccer. After first accepting a scholarship from the University of Illinois-Chicago, Ubiparipovic transferred closer to home and the University of Akron.

"Here you have the opportunity to get a degree and to play soccer as well before signing a contract, whereas in eastern Europe, you really don't go to school to play," he said. "There you sign a contract right out of high school in the hopes of making good money."

Ubiparipovic ended his career at Akron named second team All-America by the National Soccer Coaches Association for each of the last two years. The 2006 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, Ubiparipovic recorded seven goals and seven assists this year.

In three full seasons at Akron, Ubiparipovic tallied 34 goals, including a career-high 17 in 2005 as Akron advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. A two-time first-team All-MAC selection, he played in 81 career games with the Zips, making 69 starts.

With his tumultuous past behind him, and nothing but a bright future ahead, Ubiparipovic beat his highest expectations while at Akron. With just four classes left, Ubiparipovic will graduate with a degree in sociology and criminology.

"I think it is important that you have something to fall back on, besides soccer," he said. "I would like to one day go into coaching and to also try and pursue a future with either the FBI or the CIA."

But Ubiparipovic first should have a chance to see what he can do in professional soccer. He's expecting the MLS Player Combine helped him continue that path into the future.

"I think it has been an awesome experience for all of us," he said. "It has been great to meet other college players from around the country that I have not had the chance to play against yet. I'm happy to be here, playing against such a high caliber of athletes from around the country."

He certainly aided in that cause with a goal in Monday's final day, to go with an assist he recorded earlier in the weekend.

"He is an interesting player and I think with today's performance, more people took notice of what type of soccer player he truly is," said adidas Tricolore coach John Trask, the University of Illinois-Chicago who was an assistant coach with D.C. United.

Nicole Dupes is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.