Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Stefan Antonijevic's fortunes rise with Rowdies

Rowdies’ Stefan Antonijevic, No. 5, and Minnesota United’s Cristiano Dias battle for the ball near the Minnesota goal during a game at Al Lang Stadium in April 2015. At 6-foot-6, Antonijevic is used to being asked about his height, specifically when it comes to his choice of sport.

Times (2015)

Rowdies’ Stefan Antonijevic, No. 5, and Minnesota United’s Cristiano Dias battle for the ball near the Minnesota goal during a game at Al Lang Stadium in April 2015. At 6-foot-6, Antonijevic is used to being asked about his height, specifically when it comes to his choice of sport.

ST. PETERSBURG

Related News/Archive

For a guy who stands apart from the crowd, 6-foot-6 Stefan Antonijevic has found it difficult to stand out sometimes. Such is the plight of a defensive player in soccer.

Being of Serbian descent makes it even rougher.

"Eastern Europeans are very proud and very stubborn people, and I think that shows in my game" says Antonijevic. "Have I had to tone it down a little? Yeah, of course. We're not like forwards who get to score a goal and go caress something. … Defense, it's all blood and guts, no glory, so that glory is something you have to fight for."

This season, the popular second-year Rowdie has had a different kind of fight, and it has tested that Serbian pride.

It's the fight for playing time. When the team signed Neill Collins this offseason, and with captain Tam Mkandawire and Darnell King being must-starts, and the presence of talented returners Ben Sweat and Zac Portillos — someone has to sit.

Antonijevic, who started 21 games last season missing time only due to injury, has been that guy. He's not alone: Frankie Sanfilippo, Tampa Bay's captain in 2014, returned after appearing in 31 matches for Fort Lauderdale last season and has only seen the pitch in U.S. Open Cup play.

"It's a learning experience," admits Antonijevic. "Of course going from playing every game, lots of personal accolades, to taking a step backwards rather than forward has been very difficult. But you have to be a good teammate. That's how good teams win."

Though not under the preferred set of circumstances, it looks like Antonijevic will get more playing time. In a 1-1 draw against Jacksonville on Saturday, he came on for his first action of the season, replacing an injured Mkandawire at halftime, and later Collins also was forced out with an injury.

Antonijevic is certainly used to starting. And yes, he's used to being asked about his height, specifically pertaining to his choice of sport.

"I get that every day," he said. "They'll look at me and say, 'Wait, isn't Lionel Messi 5-foot-3 and how tall are you? And you're not playing basketball?"

Growing up in the Chicago area — his parents Sole' and Mimi moved to the Serbian-heavy town from then-Yugoslavia before he was born — Antonijevic had even less of a likelihood of playing soccer, what with all the other options.

"I didn't like baseball. Hockey, I played it once. I didn't understand it, and basketball … the one thing I remember there were so many set plays, it was very robotic. Soccer was my first love," he said.

And a growth "spurt" actually never happened. Antonijevic says he was 6-2 during his senior season at Chicago's Stevenson High School, and just grew a half-inch or so every year.

That made for more of those "seriously, WHAT sport?" moments in college as he attended two basketball schools (Marquette and Valparaiso). He was drafted by MLS's Sporting Kansas City in 2012 but ended up trying out for teams in Serbia and Croatia, returning to the states and playing the 2013-14 seasons with Fort Lauderdale.

In his second season with Tampa Bay, Antonijevic says he's been mistaken for Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, also 6-6, on numerous occasions.

It can happen when you stand out.

"I didn't even realize hockey players were that tall," he said. "At the start of each season when you have physicals they measure your height. It's been kind of funny. Last year I was 6-5 ½ and I'm like, 'What?' now I'm 6-6 and it's what the heck! But soccer is a passion for me. I could be 7 feet tall and still would want to play."

Up next

Rowdies at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Stefan Antonijevic's fortunes rise with Rowdies 07/05/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 5, 2016 5:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa Bay Downs full of high-paying races this season

    Parimutuels

    OLDSMAR — Tampa Bay Downs is green like never before.

  2. Astros rout Yankees to force Game 7 of AL Championship Series

    Ml

    HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to outduel Luis Severino for the second time, and the Astros bats came alive in their return home as Houston routed the Yankees 7-1 Friday night and forced a decisive Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

    The Astros’ Brian McCann, who has struggled during the ALCS, breaks a scoreless tie with an RBI double during the fifth inning off Yankees starter Luis Severino.
  3. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.
  4. Quarterback Jameis Winston will start Sunday for the Bucs

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Jameis Winston hadn't thrown in practice since he injured his right shoulder in Sunday's loss at Arizona, and with that uncertainty, a wide line of TV cameras and reporters' cellphones were all out Friday morning, recording the moment as Winston tested his shoulder with his first throws early in …

    Despite a sore shoulder, Jameis Winston will be making his 38th consecutive start since being drafted first overall in 2015.
  5. Bucs journal: LB Kwon Alexander ready to return from injury

    Bucs

    TAMPA — LB Kwon Alexander, sidelined by a hamstring injury since the second quarter of the Bucs' season opener against Chicago, will finally make a healthy return Sunday against the Bills.

    Linebacker Kwon Alexander needs “to get my stats back up” after being out since the opener.