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. Jones: Koetter-Winston exchange highlights latest 'Hard Knocks'

    Bucs

    There are certain things that make HBO's Hard Knocks must-see television.

    Jameis Winston, left, has an exchange with Dirk Koetter that highlights Hard Knocks.
  2. Trevor Plouffe is DFA'd by Rays, Kittredge recalled for now

    Blogs

    INF Trevor Plouffe didn't do much with the opportunity the Rays gave him, and time ran out Tuesday when he was designated for assignment after the game.

    Plouffe hit just .178, with one homer and two RBIs, in 31 games for the Rays, his primary playing time from starting at first or third against lefties.

  3. Rays journal: Offense shows signs of waking up in win over Blue Jays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The drought was so severe that it's still probably too soon to say the Rays are out of it, but scoring a half-dozen runs in Tuesday's 6-5 win over the Blue Jays was another promising sign.

    Corey Dickerson high-fives Wilson Ramos after hitting a solo home run in the third inning, putting the Rays up 2-1.
  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Blue Jays game

    The Heater

    C Wilson Ramos, coming off right knee surgery, often takes it easy on the bases, though it's not always a good look. But he hustled when he needed to Tuesday and got the Rays a run by beating out a two-out infield single, finishing with three more hits.

  5. Rays are full of ideas they'd like to share when commissioner visits

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Commissioner Rob Manfred is coming to the Trop today. Hmm. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg will be there to greet him. Hmmmm. And they have a scheduled joint media session. Hmmmmmmmmm.

    Commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t expected to say anything definitive about the Rays’ stadium situation when he visits the team today.