10 Things: Union's Medunjanin on Bosnia, the NBA and loving Philly

CHESTER, Pa. – Over the past few weeks, Haris Medunjanin has really come alive for the Philadelphia Union.

He had a breakout game with a goal and two assists vs. D.C. United on May 13, scored a brilliant game-winner vs. Colorado the following week and showcased his exceptional passing ability in a loss at Real Salt Lake last week.

Want to know more about the 32-year-old midfielder that’s helped turn the Union’s season around in his first year in MLS? How about the journey that led him to Philly?

Here are 10 things about Haris Medunjanin:

He’s a key player for the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team

Medunjanin made some news this week when he announced that he wanted to play in Saturday’s game at New York City FC (1 pm ET | MLS LIVE) before reporting to Bosnia and Herzegovina for a World Cup qualifier vs. Greece next Friday.

But he’s still very committed to his home country, having earned over 50 caps and three years ago helping them qualify for their first World Cup following the breakup of Yugoslavia.

And the first game at the 2014 World Cup? That was against none other than Lionel Messi and Argentina.

“It was like 80,000 crazy Argentinian fans there,” said Medunjanin, noting that he had previously played opposite Messi in La Liga competition. “It was a very nice atmosphere to be a part of.”

He switched national teams

10 Things: Union's Medunjanin on Bosnia, the NBA and loving Philly - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_default/s3/images/medunjanin.jpg?null&itok=n9_Pwt21&c=1f0043d9109e6191d6e9acb6854d10ee

Medunjanin, who moved from Bosnia to the Netherlands as a kid, was a key part of a couple of Dutch youth national teams, winning European championships with Holland’s U-20 and U-23 squads.

But he decided to switch allegiances to Bosnia both because that was where his family was from and because he knew it would be easier to make an impact.

“You need to be honest with yourself,” he said. “It would have been very difficult to make the first team of Holland. That was a big part of my choice.”

He escaped war-torn Bosnia when he was 7

Medunjanin doesn’t have many memories of the outbreak of the Bosnian War in 1992, admitting that as a 7-year-old “you don’t understand a lot of these things.”

“I was playing soccer in the streets at the time,” he said. “Then suddenly, the war started. It was crazy. At that moment, you need to survive.”

On the urging of some family members, his mom took him and his younger sister on a bus departing Sarajevo before “passing all over Europe to get us safe somewhere.” His father, who he said was sick, stayed behind and died five years later from heart issues.

“I’m happy where I am and I thank my mother for that,” said Medunjanin, who’s very close with his mom and sister, both of whom are currently living in Amsterdam. “Without her, we would not be here.”

He’s a proud product of the Dutch youth system

Medunjanin credits much of his ability to AZ Alkmaar, whose youth academy laid the foundation for his career (and the club that Union sporting director Earnie Stewart took over as director of sporting affairs a couple of years after he left.)

“When you grow up, you already feel like you’re a professional football player,” he said. “They really know how to work with young kids.”

He played in La Liga in his early 20s

It’s a good thing he had that kind of youth training because Medunjanin was quickly thrown into one of the world’s best leagues, signing with Spain’s Real Valladolid in 2008.

“For me to play against Barcelona, Real Madrid was a dream come true,” he said. “And to play in the best league in the world, it made me more mature, it made me better.”

He thinks the soccer atmosphere in Israel is underrated

Following his stint in Spain, Medunjanin signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he spent a good chunk of his career. He didn’t realize it when he first got there, but quickly discovered that Israel is actually a soccer-mad country.

“Over there, they love football. It’s like this kind of stadium,” he said, pointing to the stands at Talen Energy Stadium, “but it feels like 50,000 people. They’re so passionate about football; it’s crazy.”

He’s hit all the big Philly tourist sites already

10 Things: Union's Medunjanin on Bosnia, the NBA and loving Philly - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_default/s3/images/Medunjanin,%20Philadelphia%20Union,%20Celebrates%20a%20goal.jpg?_S4ZTc3733x7Sg.RM5724k0s9stPVKAr&itok=7f8KrceA&c=c858ba880a4594103dd78382e7edf9ba

Since signing with the Union on Jan. 31, Medunjanin has grown to love Philly, hitting all parts of the city from the Art Museum to City Hall to Independence Hall with his girlfriend, who came over with him from Israel.

His favorite tourist attraction? Going to the Eastern State Penitentiary, once the most famous and expensive prison in the world.

“I saw where Al Capone was,” he said. “I saw his cell.”

He’s a Ping Pong champ

When Medunjanin saw a Ping Pong table at the Union’s training facility, he delivered a message to teammates.

“I said, ‘Listen, gimme two weeks and I’ll beat all of you.’”

And now?

“I beat them,” he said. “All of them, I beat them. Fabian Herbers is always trying to beat me every day but I’m in the No. 1 spot.”

He’s a big NBA fan

Aside from his love of Ping Pong, Medunjanin also likes playing tennis and basketball and has been a huge NBA fan for years, sometimes waking up at 2 am while in Europe to watch games.

It’s much better now that he can watch at normal hours, especially now that the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are underway.

“It’s gonna be interesting,” he said. “Cleveland, you have LeBron and he’s amazing. But the other team, it’s like four superstars — it’s crazy.”

He plans to stay in MLS for a while

Medunjanin had dreamed of playing in MLS ever since coming to the U.S. for national team games and seeing a nice representation of Bosnian fans in the stands. And while adjusting to the league has been difficult at times — for instance, his mouth was dry because of the altitude in Utah last week, saying “these kind of things we don’t have in Europe” — he likes so much about what his new country, city and club has to offer.

“I’d like to be here for a long time,” he said. “And I’d like to try to help the young guys here and give them some advice. There’s a lot of potential on this team and these young players.”