Nemanja Vukovic
Courtesy of Columbus Crew

Vukovic making smooth transition to life in Columbus

OBETZ, Ohio – Nemanja Vukovic doesn’t own a car and only purchased a television on Tuesday. On the soccer field, though, the Crew’s new defender is settling in just fine.

The 28-year-old Montenegrin was signed March 21 and made his debut Saturday at Philadelphia with 17 minutes in relief of left back Shaun Francis.

Vukovic showed he’s capable of making pinpoint services off overlapping runs and also took several corner kicks.

“The play here is very physical. People are athletic,” he said. “It’s fast-paced in practices and games. It’s at a level I didn’t think it would be. I’ve played at the top level in Europe so I was able to adjust.”

Vukovic spent most of his 10-year career in his native country but also played for Greek side Panaitolikos from 2009-11.

His agent knew Columbus was looking for help at left back and met with coach Robert Warzycha and technical director Brian Bliss during the Crew’s preseason camp in Bradenton, Fla. From there, Vukovic was offered a tryout when the club trained in Charleston, S.C., in late February and early March.

“He’s a good passer of the ball,” Warzycha said. “He’s getting the ball into the right spaces and he’s calm on the ball.”

Bliss said Vukovic reminds him of Gino Padula, the veteran Argentine left back who was a mainstay on the Crew's 2008 MLS Cup-winning team.

“We like his ability to get forward,” Bliss said of Vukovic. “We like his ability to pass and get out of trouble and connect passes early rather than holding and holding it. He’s pretty comfortable on the ball, kind of like a Gino in terms of his passing and technical ability.”

Part of the reason is because Vukovic was a holding midfielder until moving to the backline six years ago.

“I was a very good defensive midfielder,” he said. “I scored some goals from that position.”

Vukovic embraces the opportunity to play on a new continent in league that he knew little about until recently.

“MLS has gained some real positive outlook from the European perspective in terms of quality of play, in terms of exposure with big-time players like Beckham,” he said. “Being a young player in Europe, one of the challenges is if MLS comes calling why wouldn’t I want to come here?”

His transition has been made smoother because he speaks English although Serbian-born goalkeeper coach Vojislav ‘Scoop” Stanisic sometimes acts as translator – as well as his ride to practices.

Now that Vukovic has his first MLS match out of the way he will be given strong consideration for the starting job as he battles Francis, the third-year pro who has played only 23 matches because of injuries.

“I get out of pressure situations relatively easy because I don’t mind having the ball under pressure,” Vukovic said. “I’ve played a lot of high competitive games in Europe. I say, ‘Give me the ball.’ I have no trouble keeping it with my feet and making the right decision.”

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