The perfect coach for USA’s underdogs
USA return to the Futsal World Cup for the first time since 2008
The Stars and Stripes will compete in Group F with holders Argentina, IR Iran and Serbia
FIFA.com caught up with USA head coach Dusan Jakica to learn his story and about the program’s future
Dusan Jakica emigrated from Serbia to the USA seven years ago with his wife, two daughters and four suitcases.
In just a few days he will be leading the US out at the FIFA Futsal World Cup as their head coach.
A former educator of electrical and mechanical engineering now living in Eden Prairie, Minnesota on the outskirts of Minneapolis, Jakica’s journey in futsal began in his homeland of Serbia. The basketball-lover and folk dancer guided the High School of Mechanical Engineering, Novi Sad to a national championship in 2006 in a competition with over 500 Serbian high schools involved. His success earned him the opportunity to work as an assistant coach with the Serbian national team for six years.
When the draw was made for the Futsal World Cup back in June, there was a sense of destiny for Jakica when USA’s name was drawn with Serbia alongside Argentina and IR Iran in Group F.
“I knew we would get Serbia,” said Jakica in an interview with FIFA.com. “It was my feeling. I had a dream that we would play Serbia and we would do well.”
Pressed on whether the US beat Serbia in the dream, Jakica responded: “Yes, yes. You must have dreams in life. Sometimes they come true, sometimes not. We must believe in ourselves. They’re definitely a better team, but in which sport does the better team win all the time? The ball is round. Let’s go.”
All of Jakica’s extended family are still in Serbia. His mother, sister and parents-in-law will all be glued to their TVs on 20 September to watch Dusan take on his motherland.
“It will be a very emotional game for me, but I’m professional and I will play to beat Serbia. It will be the most important game in my life.”
Two players on Serbia’s World Cup squad, Davor Popovic and Dragan Tomic, are both former students of Jakica. As a 15-year-old, Popovic was in one of Jakica’s classes at a vocational school for mechanical engineering, while Tomic played for a university team Jakica coached.
“I gave them their first futsal steps. It’s unbelievable. I get messages from them every day wishing me all the best. They tell me, ‘If anyone deserves success, you are the guy, professor.’ It’s great.
"When you see someone you knew as a young kid and now they have families and playing for their country, it’s amazing. The Serbian players and coaching staff are like my brothers. I know everything about them and they know everything about me.”
Nothing to lose
USA are not expected to get out of their group. The squad, consisting mostly of amateur players with other full-time jobs, will be going up against 2016 world champions Argentina, third-place finishers from 2016 IR Iran and Serbia, easily one of the top ten teams in the world.
“What do we have to lose? Nothing. We only get benefits from being in a group like this. We don’t have a league, clubs or training on a regular basis. And we will be competing with teams and players whose life is futsal. We are ready. We will leave our heart on the court. We will play as a family.”
USA has a strong blend of youth and experience personified by 43-year-old Everson Maciel and 19-year-old Tomas Pondeca (leads team in goals, scoring six during this cycle). They qualified by beating the Dominican Republic 2-0 in the Concacaf Championship quarter-finals. Ultimately they finished runners-up to Costa Rica in the qualifying tournament.
“If we make a run into the knockout stages, it would be a miracle, to be honest,” said Jakica, with refreshing honesty. “Look at the list of players on the teams. They play professionally for the best teams in the world in Italy and Spain.
“Now look at our list: no club, no club, no club, carpenter, food delivery worker, realtor. Now we are playing against them. But we will try to shock everybody.”