Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Sports

Stefan Antonijevic's fortunes rise with Rowdies

ST. PETERSBURG

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."

Comments
Holiday hoops tournaments for Tampa Bay

Holiday hoops tournaments for Tampa Bay

Once winter break rolls around, basketball tourneys and shootouts amp up. Here are the locals ones coming up throughout Tampa Bay. Are we missing your tournament? Email details to [email protected] basketballCDS Holiday TournamentWhere: Car...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Girls soccer: Land O’Lakes 5, River Ridge 1

LAND O'LAKES – They might not have been ready to play at the very start, but Land O'Lakes came around. Sydny Nasello scored two goals as the Gators (8-2) took over first place in Class 3A, District 8 with a 5-1 defeat of visiting Rive...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 2

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 2

The Rays have talked about a lot of things but not done much so far at the winter meetings, but that could change today.They have offers on the table for closer Alex Colome, and some of the interested teams – such as the Cardinals and Rockies &...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Warren Sapp accused of harassment; NFL Network suspends three analysts over sexual assault allegations

Warren Sapp accused of harassment; NFL Network suspends three analysts over sexual assault allegations

Warren Sapp, a former Buc and Pro Football Hall of Famer, has been accused of sexual harassment while a working as an analyst with NFL Network, according to a lawsuit.NFL Network has suspended analysts Marshall Faulk, Heath Evans and Ike Taylor "pend...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rick and Tom podcast: Piling on Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter

Rick and Tom podcast: Piling on Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter

Is there a rift between Jameis Winston and Dirk Koetter as the 4-9 Bucs are eliminated from the playoffs for a 10th straight season?In their latest podcast, Rick Stroud and Tom Jones discuss what impact this has going forward for the Bucs and whether...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tyre McCants, USF’s brawny bruiser of a receiver

Tyre McCants, USF’s brawny bruiser of a receiver

TAMPA — Having spent 11 games watching Tyre McCants in the flesh — all 236 pounds of it — USF coach Charlie Strong seems convinced his team’s leading receiver down the stretch could be someone’s leading rusher down the road."I think he can do a whole...
Updated: 2 hours ago
MLB ump Dale Scott retires rather than risk more concussions

MLB ump Dale Scott retires rather than risk more concussions

LAKE BUENA VISTA — As a big league umpire, Dale Scott saw maybe 1 million pitches from the field. His final call, it turned out, was the easiest of all. Rather than risk yet another concussion, Scott has decided to retire at 58. "I’m done," he told T...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Explosives? On 40-yard plays, Bucs among NFL’s worst

Explosives? On 40-yard plays, Bucs among NFL’s worst

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has key statistics that he puts great value in, finding a close correlation between success in those areas and success on the scoreboard. Winning the takeaway battle is always first among those priorities, but he and his staff...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Eagles confirm QB Wentz is done for season

Eagles confirm QB Wentz is done for season

PHILADELPHIA — Carson Wentz got the Eagles this far. Now, it’s up to Nick Foles to deliver Philadelphia its first Super Bowl title. Wentz has a torn left ACL and will miss the rest of the season and playoffs, forcing the NFC East champions to turn to...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Lions-Buccaneers Turning Point, Week 14: A coach's future hangs in the balance

Lions-Buccaneers Turning Point, Week 14: A coach's future hangs in the balance

TAMPA — The season started in August with “Hard Knocks,” packed bleachers at training camp and cheers for coach Dirk Koetter.It ended Sunday with a 24-21 loss to the Lions, a lot of empty seats and chants of “We want Gruden ba...
Updated: 12 hours ago