CHICAGO – It was already looking like it was going to be a much different season for a second-year midfielder on Chicago Fire FC just 11 minutes into the season.
That’s when Luka Stojanovic struck for his first Major League Soccer goal against the New England Revolution in the season opener at Soldier Field on April 17th. That momentum has continued since then with the midfielder leading the Fire in scoring with seven goals on the campaign – doubling up anyone else on the roster.
So how did that happen? We’ll it may have come from a difficult 2020, where he dealt with injury and being away from family for most of his time in America.
“This time was very difficult and sometimes I don’t even want to remember it,” said Stojanovic, who signed with the Fire late in February 2020.
He didn’t get to make his debut for the club in the two games they played before the season was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic after signing with the club on February 20th of last year. Then during the second game of the “MLS is Back Tournament” in Orlando, Stojanovic tore his MCL in his first start against San Jose, losing the rest of the shortened 2020 season.
“I’m 27 now and I’ve played almost ten years as a professional, and you realize when you’re out of the team, when you’re out for almost a year, that the most important thing is to be healthy,” said Stojanovic. “Otherwise you’ll not be on the squad, you’ll not on the team for the game for the training, and all that.
“In this time I missed it a lot, to be with the team, to share fantastic memory also here in MLS.”
On top of that, he couldn’t be near his family, who were in Serbia back in 2020 as Stojanovic was dealing with the injury.
“I was away from the family – my two sons and wife – I was alone in America because they couldn’t come because of the problem of the COVID and some visa problems, too,” said Stojanovic.
So when he was able to resume activities, Stojanovic was determined to make the most of his second season with the Fire. It was a major positive that took place despite a difficult 2020 where he was dealing with an injury while also not having his family around.
“This time gave me a lot of energy for this season,” said Stojanovic. “I believe that from the first game, also tomorrow we play against New England, the first game when we started the season we played against New England. Since this goal I’ve taken a good energy from all of that to give everything of myself to the team and to fans, also.”
He did that in the opener then scored again the next week in the Fire’s second game against Atlanta United FC. On May 22nd, he scored the only goal of the game in the club’s first win of the 2021 season against Inter Miami CF at Soldier Field.
After Stojanovic played as a sub for July and early August, the midfielder had another burst when he returned to the starting lineup. In three matches from August 8th through the 18th, he had four goals to help the club to a 2-1 record, even winning MLS Player of the Week honors as well.
On top of that, his family was finally able to join him for a time in the United States, with Stojanovic posting a few pictures of himself with his wife and sons on Instagram.
“This season I enjoy every moment, especially in front of our fans, especially at our home games on Soldier Field I try to enjoy all the moments, all the minutes, all the goals shared with them, also with the family,” said Stojanovic of the 2021 season. “It’s good to be back on the pitch, especially a year without the game.”
He’s certainly making the most of it so far and is keeping his mind in the moment since he’s not guaranteed to return to the Fire next season. He has a club option on the contract he signed before the 2020 campaign.
“The future is, for me, is this nine games and I will do my best,” said Stojanovic of the remaining part of the season, where the Fire would have to make up a 12-point gap in the standings to make the MLS Playoffs. “Short look on the season behind me, I believe that this is the best season for me playing professional soccer.”
He’s certainly done so after having one of his more difficult just a year earlier.