Marko Perovic vs. Sporting KC

Forward thinking

The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the April 23 game against Sporting Kansas City

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Marko Perovic was a revelation for the New England Revolution in 2010.

The Serbian marksman arrived in Foxborough last April following successful stints in Europe with Red Star Belgrade (Serbia) and FC Basel (Switzerland), and proceeded to make an immediate impact on this side of the Atlantic. Perovic consistently sparked the Revolution’s attack and finished the season with a team-leading six goals, while he added three assists en route to earning club Most Valuable Player honors.

It took Perovic less than three minutes to recreate that MVP form in 2011.

Shalrie Joseph put the finishing touch on Perovic’s perfectly weighted cross which gave the Revs a 1-0 lead over the LA Galaxy just two-and-a-half minutes into the season opener back on March 20. At the first attempt, Perovic’s corner kick was cleared at the near post, but the 27-year-old corralled the loose ball and delivered the kind of pass Revolution fans became accustomed to seeing last year, whipping a cross to the back post for Joseph to nod home.

But Perovic’s joy was short-lived. He limped off the field in the 22nd minute with a left hamstring strain and missed the next three games while recovering from the injury.

It wasn’t the kind of start Perovic was hoping for as he entered his second season in New England looking to build upon his personal success in 2010.

“I worked a lot before the season in Serbia, and when I came here I was ready,” said Perovic. “Everything here was good but then I had [the injury] after 20 minutes, and I was injured for two or three weeks. It’s [hard] for all players to be injured.”

Perovic’s absence was particularly difficult for a Revolution side which relies on his creativity and imagination to drive the attack. Players who possess both the confidence and ability to unlock a defense are few and far between, so Perovic’s presence on the field is critical for the goal-hungry Revs.

“It’s huge,” said head coach Steve Nicol when asked about Perovic’s importance to the team. “We want to get him the ball because he’s capable of doing something from nothing. Obviously, if you’re the opposition, you have to make sure that you take care of [him].”

Chris Tierney similarly lauded Perovic’s inventiveness, noting that his unpredictable nature keeps defenders on their toes.

“Without the creativity, we become predictable,” said Tierney. “I think Marko gives us a little something different [because] he’s a guy who can float around. You can’t really lock him down to one position. You’re not sure where he’s going to be and he kind of pops up everywhere.

“On top of that, he’s got great feet, he can run and he can finish,” Tierney added. “He’s a handful to deal with and I think other teams realize that.”

With his significance to the Revolution unquestioned, Perovic’s return to the field for an April 9 meeting with Real Salt Lake was much anticipated. The Revs had maintained an unbeaten record through four games (1-0-3) but struggled to score goals in his absence, striking just four times in the three games Perovic missed.

But the weary Revs – worn down by a midweek trip to Vancouver just three days prior – underperformed against RSL and suffered their first loss of the season, falling by a score of 2-0.

Perovic admitted his personal performance against Salt Lake showed a bit of rust, understandably so after missing weeks of training time spent in the treatment room.

“I had five or six days to practice (before playing against RSL), but only three days with the team,” said Perovic. “When (the team was) in Vancouver, I was alone here with (other) injured players.

“That was the first game for me after three weeks without practice,” he continued. “Of course, after three weeks (when) you start a game and play 90 minutes, it’s not easy.”

It’s only a matter of time before Perovic returns to full speed – continued training with his teammates and additional game action will both further his progression – and when he does, opposing defenses will have to contend with one of the most dynamic players in the league.

While many players opt for patience and caution when in possession, Perovic prefers to go straight at defenders and challenge them to win the ball. The crafty midfielder never seems to run at anything below top speed – especially with the ball at his feet – and he rarely turns down an opportunity to shoot.

It’s not always successful, but Perovic’s approach is a necessary component of an effective attack.

“I play football always forward, forward,” he said. “I always [tell] the guys, we must play forward, but (we must) play football. Not long balls, (we must) play football.

“It’s normal if you try five times, sometimes you (make a) mistake, but you must try,” Perovic added. “If you don’t try, you don’t score goals. You must shoot, you must (do) something. I always feel like when I start dribbling, I think, ‘OK, I’m going 100 percent’.”

Considering his propensity to push the tempo during the run of play, it’s a bit surprising that Perovic is perhaps most adept when the ball it as at a complete stop. Three of Perovic’s six league goals last season came directly from set pieces, while he also showed deadly accuracy serving balls into the box on both free kicks and corner kicks.

Tierney regularly has an up-close view of Perovic’s ability on set pieces, as the duo often practices free kicks together after training.

“He’s top quality with his left foot,” Tierney said. “As good as I’ve seen or I’ve played with. I’ve been out here training with him for a while and (when) we stay and do free kicks afterwards, he consistently puts seven out of 10 in the top corner.”

Perovic displayed that ability time and again in the 2010 season – first showcasing it with a rocket into the upper right corner against the Colorado Rapids on April 24 – but he claims to have no preference between aiming free kicks directly on target or searching for teammates in the box.

Perovic said the decision between shooting and crossing isn’t affected by his mood, the score, or how much time remains. Instead, he insists, it’s all about the position of the ball.

“If [I’m] positioned for shooting at goal, I try shooting,” he said. “If the position is not good for shooting, of course I try crossing … [The team] talks together and we see what’s best for the team. It’s not important to always shoot.”

With that said, when Perovic does go for goal, he always prefers accuracy over power.

“I never shoot (just) hard or fast,” he said. “I always look for a target.”

Perovic’s versatility on free kicks is matched by his versatility on the field, where the Serb can play a wide variety of attacking positions. Although he spent much of his time with FC Basel playing as a left-sided midfielder, Perovic was deployed primarily as a withdrawn forward upon his arrival in New England last season, while he also showed an ability to play on the right side of midfield or as a central midfielder in a five-man setup.

Regardless of his position or the Revolution’s formation, Perovic feels comfortable as long as the ball is at his feet and he’s going forward.

“It’s not a big problem changing positions,” he said. “Because in Europe, it’s normal – you must play a lot of positions. If you don’t play a lot of positions, [you’ll miss] a lot of time.”

Perovic isn’t overly concerned with where he plays on the field or even replicating his MVP performance from last season. Instead, he’s focused on achieving a team goal which he missed out on during his first year in Foxborough.

“Last season was good for me (personally), but the club, we didn’t [make] the playoffs,” Perovic said. “This year [it’s] important that we go to the playoffs and we must be together. It doesn’t matter who is MVP or the top scorer.”