In 2019 the RDC Kings soccer program took a major step forward by finishing second in the ACAC and 6th in the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association championships.
The recognition they received has resulted in a number of elite recruits looking their way, none more respected than Ajdin Sarcevic.
To be truthful Ajdin would have committed to the King without the 2019 success, but he fits in nicely with the overall recruiting success.
Sarcevic, who was born and raised in Red Deer, played five and a half years in Europe, the majority in Bosnia before returning home.
“I returned home on May 14 (2020) and was to go back to Bosnia in July if it reopened, but no shot, Covid changed all that,” he said.
“At the time Alberta was more open than Europe and there was just no way to go back, I couldn’t fly into Bosnia, and if I did get there there was no guaranteeing I would be playing. So it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”
He had been in contact with Mahziar Peyrow, who is the GM for both RDC soccer teams, head coach of the Queens and assistant coach of the Kings.
“We were in contact and at the time it was better for me to stay at home because I wasn’t playing and would have been behind the players in Europe so I registered at RDC,” Sarcevic said.
As for how long the 22-year-old will stay depends on if an opportunity to play professionally again comes up. The development of the CPL (Canadian Professional League) has opened up a number of opportunities for Canadians to play pro and stay at home, something that suits Ajdin.
“It was a dream come true to play professionally in Europe, but there would be nothing better than to play professionally for your home country.”
Being part of the ACAC may help that. They have an agreement with the CPL in that each team puts a number of their top players in a lottery from which the CPL can sign players. There is also talk of a Western Soccer League, which would be used as a feeder system for the CPL.
“If they had the CPL, or other pro leagues, when I was 17 I wouldn’t have likely went to Europe.”
However, he doesn’t regret it.
“It was great, just getting an opportunity to play and learn,” he said.
He left Canada when he was 17 to live with his uncle after being recruited by Tarnby in Denmark.
“I was with the Bosnian Youth national team training camp and had my picture in the paper. The coach of the Denmark team, which my cousin played for, saw it and asked about me. It went from there.”
He played a year of semi-pro in Denmark before leaving for Hamburg, Germany, where he spent half a year.
“I had a number of trials there but never did play.”
From there he went to Bosnia, the home country of both his parents. His dad, Ado, played pro soccer and his mom, Sanela, pro basketball.
He played for NK Podrmec and Bosna Visoko in Bosnia. His family had ties with Podrmec as both his grandfather and dad played there.
It was a great experience, but despite speaking the language and having spent several summers there as a kid, Ajdin still was looked at as a foreigner.
“That was the tough part because they know the local players … it’s just tougher to climb up the ranks when you’re a foreigner.”
Ajdin plays central midfield, a key position, says Peyrow.
“It’s like a quarterback in football,” he said. “To be honest it’s the most important position. It’s not glamorous, but it controls the pace of play and the direction of play.”
Ajdin is an elite player and one of the biggest additions to the Kings, but this year the roster is loaded with impressive recruits.
Winger Thomson Iareal Welemonger was born in Liberia and played the last couple of seasons in Vancouver while defender Wakatu Oguchi comes from Japan, left-back Danielle Di Grande from Montreal and midfielder Cole Grantham from Prince George.
Grantham played with the B.C. Selects and club soccer in Mexico and Italy and is a reserve for the Vancouver 86ers.
As well former Red Deer players — Kirkland Moody, Masoum Zather and keeper Jared St. Thomas — have committed.
Moody played pro in Jamaica and semipro in Ottawa while Zather, who played for the Kings in 2014 and 2016, has international experience and St. Thomas also played in Ottawa.
The Kings lost only two players — team scoring leader Nathan Swartz (seven goals and four assists) and Turner Johnson – off the 2019 team.
“Just finishing sixth at the nationals made a world of difference,” said Mahziar. “Getting our name out there means a lot and we’re excited about our team this year. Now we’re hoping to play.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org