The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the Aug. 14 game against the Houston Dynamo
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Just four months into his first season with the New England Revolution, Marko Perovic has made quite the impression.
Entering Saturday night’s game against the Houston Dynamo, the 26-year-old Serb is the Revolution’s second-leading scorer in league play with four regular-season goals, while he’s also added a pair of strikes in SuperLiga. His six goals in all competitions match rookie forward Zack Schilawski for top spot on the club’s scoring charts.
Perovic got off the mark with his first goal for the Revs on April 24 against Colorado and doubled his tally one month later against the New York Red Bulls, but it wasn’t until July that the gifted midfielder started pouring in the goals. During a five-game stretch from July 10-31, he scored four of the Revolution’s six goals while assisting on another, scored by Schilawski. In a matter of weeks, Perovic’s name became well-known in MLS circles.
It’s a scenario Perovic never imagined while playing for FC Basel in the Swiss Super League a short time ago.
“I never looked [at] coming to the United States,” Perovic admitted, “because normally I play in Europe and I am close with my home, close with my family. But the last two or three years in Europe, [MLS is popular]. All the people talk about MLS and I see a lot of players coming to MLS.”
Through 2009, Perovic was quite happy in Switzerland, playing Champions League soccer with FC Basel against world powerhouses such as FC Barcelona and Sporting Clube de Portugal. Manager Christian Gross – who brought Perovic to FC Basel from Red Star Belgrade in 2008 – consistently had a spot for the Serb in his starting lineup.
But Gross moved on to become manager at German Bundesliga club VfB Stuttgart in December 2009, and Thorsten Fink took over at FC Basel. Under Fink, Perovic saw a decrease in playing time and decided it was time to make a move.
“[Fink] came in and he [brought in] a lot of new players and he changed everything at the club, and I [didn’t] play too much,” said Perovic. “For me, it’s important to play. I think for everybody, it’s important to play.”
With his mind made up on a move away from FC Basel, Perovic listened to the advice of his agent and began mulling interest from Major League Soccer. It wasn’t long before he joined up with the Revolution during the club’s preseason training trip to North Carolina and after taking part in two friendlies with the Revs, both sides showed interest in getting a deal done.
It took a couple weeks for Perovic to work out his contract situation with FC Basel, plus an additional two weeks as he waited to receive his U.S. P-1 Visa, but by early April, Perovic was in New England. He made his debut in the 2010 home opener against Toronto FC on April 10.
The transition to the United States can be a daunting one for young foreign athletes – especially without a complete knowledge of the English language – but Perovic settled in nicely from the outset. He credits the welcoming attitude of the Revs players and coaching staff with his smooth shift to the States.
“All the players, they always come to me and say, ‘Marko, you want help? For everything, you call me,’” Perovic said. “Shalrie (Joseph), Darrius (Barnes), (head coach) Steve (Nicol), everybody. I said, ‘This is nice, they’re like old friends. This is good.’”
While he would likely never admit it, Perovic’s own outgoing personality also played a part in his quick acclimation to the club. From the very start, he acted as if he’d been with the team for years, joking around with his teammates and the Revolution’s staff.
“He’s a great guy,” said Chris Tierney. “He’s got a great personality, he’s easy to get along with, he works hard and he plays the right way. I think he’s adapted really well and he just keeps getting better and better.”
Likely the biggest difference Perovic has encountered between his time in Switzerland and his new career in the United States is the rigor of cross-country travel. Most European countries are small enough that extensive travel is almost non-existent, but that’s quite clearly not the case in the United States, the fourth-largest country in the world in terms of land mass.
Perovic was given a swift introduction to the league’s travel requirements, as his first road trip sent him to San Jose, Calif., almost 3,000 miles across the country. It was a new experience, to say the least.
“For everybody I think it’s difficult traveling [across the country],” Perovic said. “For me it’s also difficult because in Europe, we always go with (a) bus, we never go with (a) flight. Maybe when we play Champions League and Europa League we go with (a) flight, but also the distance is short – not long like seven hours, maximum two or three hours. But this is my job, I must travel.”
As far as his on-field performance, Perovic seems to have adapted quite seamlessly in that regard. He said his prior experience in Switzerland has helped his adjustment to MLS because both leagues have a similar physical playing style and are comparable in terms of skill level.
Perovic has shown flashes of brilliance from the run of play, but he’s displayed his true quality from set pieces, particularly in recent weeks. Three of his six goals have come direct from free kicks, giving the Revs a true set-piece specialist for the first time in years.
“It’s huge because he’s capable of scoring at any time,” said Nicol. “Whether he’s on form or whether he’s off form, he’s capable of just doing something from nothing and putting the ball in the net.”
Prior to Perovic’s arrival, Tierney was one of the Revolution’s top free kick takers and delivered most of the club’s corner kicks. Now, he spends extra time after training sessions testing himself against Perovic.
“It’s top quality, it really is,” Tierney said of Perovic’s left foot. “I thought I was whipping in some decent balls on set pieces, but I’ll happily concede to him whenever one comes up because his service is great. He’s scored three goals now off set pieces. Every time he’s over it, something good happens.”
Surprisingly, free kicks haven’t always been Perovic’s specialty. He claims he wasn’t a goal scorer during his time with Red Star Belgrade, but after his move to FC Basel a coach gave him one simple – yet very helpful – piece of advice.
“A couple of years ago, I never [took] free kicks,” Perovic said. “But one coach from Serbia, he told me, ‘Marko, do you want to score goals?’ I said, ‘Yes!’ He said, ‘Then you must shoot! You have a good shot, but you must be strong and have confidence.’”
Perovic’s confidence will likely continue to rise as he grows increasingly more comfortable with life in MLS. An even further boost to his confidence could be imminent with the recent addition of another Serb, 31-year-old forward Ilija Stolica. Perovic has known Stolica for years – he says the powerful forward will be an important signing for the Revs – and both players will find some comfort in having a fellow countryman in the locker room.
Although Perovic speaks decent English and has started forming an understanding with his Revolution teammates, he admits that having a forward on the field whom he knows and who speaks his native language could be beneficial.
“For me, it’s good because we [speak] the same language,” Perovic said. “It’s also good when I play a game, because it’s easier to talk. [In] a game, you don’t have too much time to talk, you must be quick, and sometimes for me English is a problem. It’s better that we know our language and I think it’ll also be good for [Ilija].”
Should Perovic continue to impress in MLS, the possibility always exists that European teams could come calling once again. But at the present time, Revs fans need not worry – Perovic plans on an extended stay in the United States.
“It’s nice living in New England,” he said. “I am happy here because it’s a nice club, nice fans, everything. It’s good for me.”