Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Indy Eleven Player Profile - Unleash The Dragan - No.17 Dragan Stojkov

By: James Cormack

By the time the first game for Indy kicks off next season Dragan Stojkov will be 28 years old. He was born in Strumica which at the time of his birth was in former Yugoslavia and is now a part of Macedonia. Dragan has plied his trade in Macedonia, Greece, Serbia, South Korea and of course now the United States.During his youth, Stojkov played with several clubs before reaching Serbia. Those clubs include FK Belasica, Egaleo FC and Ilisiakos FC. In 2009 Dragan signed for FK Napredak Kruševac in the Serbian SuperLiga.

At the end of that season Napredak were relagated to the Serbian First League. Stojkov left Napredak and joined the club where he would spend the longest time during his professional career to date, FK Jagodina.

During his time at FK Jagodina, Dragan won a Serbian Cup medal in the 2012-2013 season after defeating Vojvodina in the final. Subsequently, he also played for the club in the qualifiers of the Europa League against FC Rubin Kazan of the Russian Premier League. Despite losing in the qualifying, this is still great experience for any player.

In 2014 Dragan left Serbia and headed for the United States. Joining LA Galaxy of the MLS, Stojkov played for their second team in the USL for that year. In 2015 Stojkov left Los Angeles and moved to Indianapolis to play with Indy Eleven. After a good showing in his first season he was named as one of the first eight players to be retained for 2016.

In 2015 Dragan notched up 1409 minutes in 21 games and appeared in 18 starting line ups for Indy Eleven. Playing primarily on the right wing, Dragan has also been used as a makeshift full back as well. Throughout most of his career Stojkov has played as a central defensive midfielder before coming to Indy.

So let's hear it from the Dragan's mouth...

We were lucky enough to be able to sit down and talk with Indy's number 17 recently and get his thoughts on his career and playing for Indy Eleven. Dragan has a great sense of humor. He told us at a team meeting each player was asked to vote for players to be in the next games starting lineup, so he wrote his own name down eleven times!

For anyone who is curious, Dragan's favorite team is FK Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade) and one of his most memorable moments in his life was playing against them in his favorite place which is Rajko Mitić Stadium for FK Jagodina. Red Star supporters have been named as one of the top 15 most intimidating in the world.

In good old front office style, we posed these ELEVEN questions to Dragan Stojkov....

JC: At what age did you become serious about football and how did you break into professional football, which was your first professional club?

Dragan: I guess it was around the age of 15, I was called up to play for the Macedonia U17 team, after that I signed my first professional contract with FK Belasica, at the time they were playing in Macedonia's first division. This was my Academy club, as you know it's a little different in Europe than here in the US (i.e players start pro football younger)

JC: When you played at Jagodina in the Serbian SuperLiga you won the Serbian Cup and qualified to enter the Europa League playing against Russian side Rubin Kazan. Was this the high point of your career so far and what was that experience like.

Dragan: For two of the three years I played at FK Jagodina we mad it to the Europa League Qualifiers twice (v FK Ordabasy of Kazakhstan in 2012 in addition to Rubin Kazan in 2013) and we also managed to win the Serbian Cup in 2013 so yes that was definitely a high point for me. Prior to that I was also called to the first national team of Macedonia at the age of 17 for a friendly, that was my only time, I was called also while at Jagodina but was injured at the time, this was my reward for reaching the second group stage of the U19 European Championships but could not play.

JC: What prompted you to leave Serbia and FK Jagodina and travel to the United States, how did you land at LA Galaxy, were you scouted or was the USA somewhere you just wanted to go?

Dragan: I left FK Jagodina after three wonderful years, I felt at the time the club had achieved everything they could up to that point and I needed a new challenge. I had received a letter of invitation from LA Galaxy to come on trial, and I think before that the agency I worked with in Europe had already recommended me to them. So I took a risk and made the decision before the next season began in Serbia. I have always wanted to see how it is in the USA and I love challenges so it was an easy decision!

Dragan in action V FC Edmonton 2015
JC: What was your first experience of US Soccer at LA, was it below your expectations and did you have hopes to play in the MLS?

Actually when I first arrived my first experience was watching the USA play against South Korea at the Stub Hub Center in LA. The USA won 2-0 and I was very impressed by the game. That was my first encounter but it is much different when you are on the field.

I was expecting the level of play to be very high because these days everyone is getting better and better, it's the most popular sport in the world and here in the USA it is getting more popular all the time and with that comes growth in the playing level.

Of course I came with hopes and expectations of playing in the MLS but I just didn't get a chance, in the first half of the season I had an injury, so for the second half of last year I had to play for LA Galaxy II in the USL instead of playing in the first team.

JC: How did the switch from LA Galaxy II to Indy Eleven come about and how did you find the NASL as far as quality of play and difficulty compared to the USL in 2014?

I didn't feel I had good chances to play in MLS, with the foreign spots and all the rules the league has it was never going to be easy. Also the USL is more of a developmental league for younger players, I felt the NASL seemed more serious with the supporters and league organization.

It was suggested from within LA that I should consider a trial with Indy Eleven. The NASL looked to me like most of the teams were on the same level , not a huge difference in quality between all teams, anybody can beat anybody. So I took the opportunity to explore and try out with Indy Eleven.

JC: Obviously you have chosen now to stay in Indianapolis, what is it that you like about the team and the city, was it an easy decision to make?

For me it was an easy decision to make when I came here, I stood in the stands in 2014 and witnessed the first home win for Indy against Minnesota United. I loved the fans which by the way I think are the best fans in this league and I love everything about this city!

JC: How different is the NASL to any other league you have played in, are the roster changes an upheaval for a player who stays? I would imagine you will have lost some friends, is it like losing family? Have you witnessed this kind of mass change anywhere else you have played?

I have played in Macedonia, Greece, Serbia and South Korea but have never experienced or even heard of a league where there are so many changes in every club each year, it is definitely new to me, but I am getting used to it.

I feel in some ways it is bad because you are losing team mates and friends, also coaching changes sometimes even a whole franchise can change so it is hard to adapt and have consistency, but it is also good in a way that forces players to be more competitive and fight for their place. I think this is also interesting for the fans as well. There are many other things as well that are not easy to explain.

JC: Do you set yourself goals and targets for next season, there will be a lot of new players coming in and not everybody’s spot in the first team will be guaranteed, how do you prepare yourself mentally and physically for the pre season to put yourself at the front of the coaches minds?

Yes, I imagine every player sets themselves goals, it is no different with me. Nothing is guaranteed in this game, or in any sport, you are never assured to have a starting spot throughout any season, and each season is like a new story. In every game you have to prove yourself and in every training.

You can't just relax and assume you will play in the next game, if you are not performing then for sure you are not going to play, at least that is how I see it. If you look at last season there is no big difference in play minutes between us.

For my part my main focus is to be healthy, and I am just going to play my game and do the best I can possibly do in training. At the end of the day it will be the coaches decision on whether I have done enough. Everyone is starting from scratch now and I am very excited and looking forward to begin pre-season.

JC:How is your shoulder injury now, are you cleared to play and train now and do you feel ready to go?

My shoulder is still not 100% but I am doing physical therapy and training to be ready. It's a good thing I am not a baseball player, I won;t be using my shoulder a lot but I hope by the start of pre-season I will be ready to go at full speed!

From the time you have spent at Indy Eleven what has been your favorite memory so far, on or off the field whether funniest, most enjoyable, most rewarding?

Dragan: I can't really pick out a single moment, I can just say that every win with the team has been very special and those are my favorite moments. Winning is always the best feeling ever!

JC: So which is best? Los Angeles or Indianapolis. Does Indianapolis feel more like home to you with regular seasons, how does it compare as a place to live with LA or with your home in Europe?

Dragan: Every place that I have lived in has it's own beauty, but I would say that Indianapolis definitely feels more like home than LA. I am here right now and I love it here so I am just going to leave it at that ;)


Many thanks to Dragan for his time and also to Indy Eleven for allowing us the opportunity to get to know him better. You can follow Dragan on Twitter @draganstojkov and on Instagram draganstojkov007.

Also keep up to date with Bloody Shambles here there and everywhere......


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