ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – If the locker room gets too rowdy, Stefan Antonijevic is probably in the middle of it.
The six-foot-six centre back, recently acquired by the Tampa Bay Rowdies, posses a unique set of skills on and off the pitch.
Antonijevic has played in the North American Soccer League for two years now, and understands that performing on the field requires both talent and chemistry
“He is the funniest guy on the team; Stef we call him,” said coach Thomas Rongen, Thursday afternoon at Al Lang Stadium. “He is very comfortable to talk to; with teammates, with coaches, he is very receptive, he wants to get better.”
Antonijevic has started in 38 of 39 matches he played in, recording over 3,000 minutes in the NASL. He contributed to nine clean sheets.
The 24 year old understands the importance of what he brings to the chemistry of the team, but knows that his defensive duties are just as important.
“With my qualities, being that I’m tall, somewhat composed on the ball, and have a left foot I think that’s unique,” said Antonijevic following an intense practice. “I like to think that I hold a lot of key elements to playing the centre-back position in these days.”
Antonijevic also takes with him invaluable experience, having played for the Under-19 Serbian team in 2008.
“I think I gained a lot of respect, but things didn’t pan out afterwards,” said Antonijevic. “I took a whole lot out of that, and was able to transfer that experience into coming back to the States.”
The Buffalo Grove, Ill., native, having played with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers over the last two seasons, knows how to deal with pressure situations, having gone to the Soccer Bowl in 2014.
“That stage, with that many people, that crowd just very loud and playing away, being the underdog, of course there is going to be some nerves, but nervous with regard to playing the game, didn’t have any.
“I was more excited than I was nervous,” said Antinjoevic. “Its all about being able to compose that energy inside yourself and to just transfer it in a soccer specific way on the field that is going to be positive for the team.”
His abilities and experience will always be with the lanky centre back, but he always remembers that he may also be the glue for a team composed of 19 new players.
“I’m more of a charmer off the field. But on the field I have to be more demanding,” he said.
Rongen understands all that Antonijevic brings to the table, and looks forward to working with a very unique and talented individual.
“He is a natural lefty too, and when you play with two centre backs it’s always very, very important to find a left-foot player,” said Rongen. “He has to manipulate the ball, go across his body; it’s a great luxury to have.
“He is good in the air, pretty good tackler, athletic for his size. He is an awesome addition. He keeps the locker room really light.”