Sciaretta's Scouting Report

Striker Andrija Novakovich, 18, Moves to Reading FC

The six-foot-two Wisconsin native—No. 19 in the photo above—decided to skip college and head straight to the professional ranks. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke to the youngster about his development and goals.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 04, 2014
12:52 PM
THE UNITED STATES U-20 national team is entering a key part of the cycle as World Cup qualifying is now only seven months away and the coaching staff is still determining which players will make up the team’s core.

Last month’s Dallas Cup made it clear that Rubio Rubin, Ben Spencer, Matt Miazga, Paul Arriola, Shaq Moore, and goalkeeper Zach Steffen were key players. That group helped guide the U.S. to the finals of the tournament, where it fell to River Plate.

Last week, the third U.S. U-20 camp of 2014 concluded in Raleigh and forward Andrija Novakovich may have put his name into the equation moving forward. In the team’s final friendly of the camp, a 4-2 loss to the Wilmington Hammerheads of the USL, Novakovich scored both goals.

It has been quite year for Novakovich, who only began playing for the United States internationally last year when he was called up to a U.S. U-17 camp shortly after its failed attempt to qualify for the 2013 World Cup. He quickly made the transition to the U-18 national team and became a regular. This recent camp marked his U.S. U-20 debut, and he hopes to be a part of the squad that builds towards the World Cup next year.

“It’s definitely crossed my mind,” Novakovich told American Soccer Now. “Going to a World Cup would be awesome but I need to focus on what I’m doing. I have to keep playing well and keep getting called in. Hopefully I’ll be called up for the World Cup. If I do or if I don’t, I think I’ll be happy as long as I’m playing well and enjoying my soccer. That’s all that matters to me.”

Novakovich, 18, made headlines recently when he elected to forego his scholarship at Marquette University and instead sign a multiyear professional deal in England with Reading FC, one of several clubs that noticed him while he was with the U.S. U-18 team. As one of the top incoming freshman in the country, it was a difficult decision to move abroad but ultimately it made sense.

While both of his parents are ethnically Serbian, his mother, Zorka Novakovich, was raised in England—near Reading—and holds British citizenship. Novakovich will therefore be close to family as he makes the move overseas.

The sport runs deep in his family and now with signing at Reading, Novkovich will have the opportunity to carry on his family legacy.

“Andrija's grandfather, Rade Prpa, played for Bicester Town and Oxford City,” Zorka Novakovich said. “He had a chance to go farther but his father died so he had to say no so that he could stay home to take care of his mother. We all are pleased that Andrija is now able to live his dream where his grandparents and ancestors started.”

Still, the decision to bypass his education at Marquette and turn professional was not easy.

“It was a really big decision, tough decision but I actually have family near Reading and that really helped me out,” Novakovich explained. “My family and I talked about it quite a bit. It was an offer that I couldn’t really refuse. I am just following my dreams and doing what I love. I really liked the staff at Reading. Once I got there, I enjoyed the training sessions. It was just a really, really great atmosphere for me. It felt right. I liked it from the beginning.”

Marquette head coach Louis Bennett understood Novakovich’s decision and always recognized that the player had the talent to turn professional even if he wasn’t expecting it so soon.

"I have known and worked with Andrija since he was seven years old and recognized both his talent and his dream,” Bennett said recently. “The pro opportunity came a little faster than planned. Providing opportunity and guidance is always of paramount importance to all the young men we work with at Marquette, and that was my promise to him and his family to do just that.”

"It's a wonderful opportunity that provides a stable, quality situation at Reading as a budding professional soccer player," Bennett added.

Now set to join Reading next season, Novakovich will likely begin with the club’s U-18 team where he has one more year of age eligibility at that level. He also expects to see minutes with U-21 team and train with the first team.

Novakovich will now join a growing legacy of Americans at Reading. Marcus Hahnemann began the tradition in 2001 and was later joined by Bobby Convey, who helped guide the team to its first promotion to the top flight in 2006. This past season, Danny Williams earned positive reviews at the club despite struggling with injuries.

Novakovich is excited to embrace the club’s history of American players and said that “it’s great to be a part of that.”

Like his idol, Thierry Henry, Novakovich is a strong forward and is tall, measuring six-foot-two. In his early teenage years, he was one of the taller players and was able score regularly because of his size. As he matured and as his physical size was no longer as big an advantage, he had to develop as a player and become more well-rounded.

“I think that because I have a height advantage people like to think of me as a target forward,” Novakovich explained. “I get the ball down and dish it off to my teammates but I also like to play with the ball at my feet and dribble at people and take defenders on. I think that was important as I got up into the higher levels and I couldn’t do the things I used to do easily. I had to adapt my style. I think I’ve developed as a player. I’ve grown.”

As a native of Muskego, Wisconisn, near Milwaukee, Novakovich grew up in a Serbian area of the city. Not known for its soccer history, Novakovich is quick to point out that the America's Dairyland also produced former U.S. World Cup defender Jay DeMerit.

Fluent in Serbian, Novakovich spoke the language at home and cites his Serbian roots as playing a major role in his passion to play soccer. He traveled to Serbia on several occasions growing up. In Wisconsin, his youth teams frequently consisted of the same Serbian kids from his town and at one point the team was named the United Serbians.

Eventually he moved on to play for the Chicago Magic, a storied youth club whose alumni include Brad Guzan, Chris Schuler, Eric Lichaj, Perry Kitchen, and Ricardo Clark.

“I like to think soccer is pretty big in Wisconsin,” Novakovich said. “Growing up what helped me was that I had a Serbian background. My friends and family were all Serbian. A lot of us were the same age and we grew up loving and playing soccer. We all played on the same team and it was fun playing. We made the most of it and never really thought of the big time. We just had fun. It was a great childhood.”

As for the next major milestone in his development? It could come a year from now when the U-20 World Cup kicks off in New Zealand.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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