It'd be easy and understandable for Luka Stojanović to be down and discouraged.
The 26-year-old is 5,000 miles away from his wife and two kids -- isolated in a new country, among new surroundings -- with his MLS adventure on pause. He should be preparing for what would have been the Club's first-ever meeting with Inter Miami CF this weekend with his new teammates. Instead, like so many of us, it'll likely be another Saturday and Sunday spent inside in front of screens.
After arriving in Chicago on March 7, the midfielder trained with his new teammates for just three days before Major League Soccer announced that the 2020 season would be suspended amid the spread of COVID-19.
Despite the circumstances, it's difficult to leave a conversation with Stojanović without getting a sense for how important actively embracing positivity is to the Belgrade native. He speaks of spirit and perspective. He leans into a belief that coming out of this situation stronger is just a matter of where one puts their focus.
ChicagoFireFC.com initially spoke with Stojanović that week in early March from his temporary residence at The Blackstone Hotel, where he discussed his expectations for MLS and what he'd planned to accomplish in his first season in Chicago. Now, in revisiting that initial conversation over the phone nearly seven weeks later, Stojanović's affirmative outlook has not wavered.
Read highlights from each of the two conversations (edited for clarity) below:
Photos taken on location at the Blackstone Hotel by JP Calubaquib (March 11, 2020).
March 11, 2020
ChicagoFireFC.com: Before you got the call from Chicago Fire FC, how much did you know about Major League Soccer?
Luka Stojanović: "I know that it’s growing up a lot. When I got the pre-contract, I started to understand that MLS is behind all the clubs. In Europe, it’s not so much. Maybe in the Premier League the league is helping, but in the rest of Europe, it’s everything about private clubs or city clubs like that. When I saw that, I relaxed and I saw that there’s a good company behind the team. That’s how I feel about the people in the Club. So I just easily said ‘yes’ to Chicago."
CFFC.com: How do you think your time in Europe -- most recently with Serbia's FK Cukaricki -- has prepared you for this next challenge?
LS: "It’s a new continent, and for sure in Europe there is strong and good football -- especially in the top five, six leagues. I played in Portugal, Belgium and Cyprus also and I think this experience will help me a lot to show myself in a good way here, and to use these three years to score many goals. It’s my ambition to win something that will be great and be remembered by the fans and the people in the club."
CFFC.com: It's only been a few days, but how have you been received so far by the Club and the coaching staff?
LS: "Everybody has been fantastic. Since the first day we came, we feel very good -- especially me. I was three years at the last club and it’s always difficult to move, but since I’ve come here I feel that I’ve come into a group that’s very strong."
CFFC.com: What are you hoping to accomplish in your first season in Chicago and beyond?
LS: "I like to score goals. The first (priority) is to have good results with the club. My first personal ambition is to score more than 10 goals in the season. I have already done it three times since I started professional football. I think this a good way to help the team also, to take important points. The second ambition for me and for the club is to get trophies. We’ll see where the biggest chance is to take it."
CFFC.com: What has been the proudest moment of your career to-date?
LS: "It’s trophies. Since you start to play football as a young player, you always dream about trophies -- to get them in your hand. This is the biggest dream, to win the championship. I believe we can do it. It’s a new team and everything is new, but we need to put our ambition up and to think in a positive way and that’s it."
CFFC.com: You're joining a team that is almost entirely brand new, from the coaching staff to many of the players. What will it take for you all to come together and win this season?
LS: "We need spirit. This doesn’t come in a few weeks of football. This will come with victories and with good moments together. I think when we get a good spirit between us and between the staff and also especially with the fans -- if they see the passion on the pitch from us -- I hope they will come to the stadium to support us. When I heard almost 40,00 tickets were sold for the first game, I think this is the way that everyone can help. The spirit only can come with good victories and with everybody celebrating together -- fans, staff, players and especially the people who live for this Club."
April 29, 2020
CFFC.com: After you and Boris Sekulić arrived together in early March, you spent a few weeks at the Blackstone Hotel and have since found an apartment downtown. How else have you been spending your time at home since the season was suspended?
LS: "It’s a difficult time. When I arrived, everything stopped. After two, three days of trainings, everything was done. Like everyone, I’ve spent most of the time at home. I found an apartment after two weeks. With help from (Manager of Player Relations) Momo (Momcilovic) and with Boris also with me, I think we found good ones. We left the hotel and started to live normal lives. I was thinking maybe in a few weeks this was going to pass, but it is still there with us. It’s a difficult time to just stay home, and not go with the mates to training and the usual things we do in normal life. But I think we have a good group of guys and a good staff. We do zoom trainings, zoom yoga, and all that. It’s been one-and-a-half months, and it’s been ok until now. We’ll see when everything comes back to normal."
CFFC.com: How has living downtown helped you acclimate yourself to the city of Chicago over these last several weeks?
LS: "I just chose an apartment near to everybody in downtown. My first impression of the city is fantastic. Everyday I’m here I see something new. I’m really enjoying this time in Chicago. I think it’s going to be very good for my family when they come. I’m just there a few minutes from Grant Park. I’m close to the river and to the lake. I think when they come, we can share a very nice time here in Chicago."
CFFC.com: With your family still back in Serbia, how is everyone doing and how have you been communicating with them?
LS: "Every time you change a club and go to a different city and different country, I leave them for maybe a month to prepare everything for them to come. I think when they come, all of the stuff - the beds, the playground, the apartment, and everything - will be ready for them. It will be much easier when they come because I have fixed everything by myself. The problem is, I don’t know when this is going to stop. This bothers me, you know? This is the main point. We don’t know when this is going to stop and when they can come. I’m just trying to be patient. They’re in Serbia at home and they have help from the family, so my wife is not alone with the children.
"We do video chats. (I have two) small boys. They need a lot of care, so my wife has been doing a great job. The smaller one is two years and four months, and the older one is three-and-a half. It’s a lot of energy. In September, he’ll be four. She spends a lot of time with them. It’s difficult, but she’s doing a fantastic job with them over there. I hope in a close time that they will open the border and we can come back to football so they can enjoy this beautiful city and this beautiful Club with me."
CFFC.com: How has the Club been supporting you and your teammates during this suspension period?
LS: "In this moment, I think they’ve done a great job. When we have a meeting, for example, to analyze other clubs, they try to listen to us. They try to listen to many more ideas of how we’re looking at football. I think this is so important for a club. I feel also that they’re giving 100% of themselves during this. I try to do my best too, but especially how the Club cares about that is so fantastic. I hope that the rest of the clubs in the world take care like this, how they’re taking care of us now."
"They bring us all kinds of stuff. They try to spend time with us even during this difficult time. My first impression when we came was very good, and I think I’ve come into a good group. I came a little bit late, but what I saw from those first few days and the few trainings was that we have a lot of ability, a lot of good players, and I think we grew as a team in that time. When we come back and we do preparation together, I think we can achieve something. This is my wish for this year. I hope each one of us will give not 100 percent, but 200 percent in all of the games. I think this is the way to success. From those first few days, I felt very good. Believe me now, during this last month-and-a-half, I remember that time a lot. I wish for it to come back so fast, because it was a lot of positive energy in training and from that short time you could see that we’re going to do a great job."
CFFC.com: After having only a few days together when you arrived, have you been able to get closer with your new teammates virtually?
LS: "If I remember my ex-club, it was just two or three months ago that I was there. When I talk with my (current) teammates now, it’s like we know each other. I don’t feel like it’s been such a short time here. Maybe in our head it feels longer (laughs), but we are very close. We have FIFA, we have phone calls. Sometimes we eat together. I think this can help us in the future."
CFFC.com: Can you share what specifically you're doing to occupy your time outside of virtual team trainings?
LS: "I have a few things. First of all is speaking with my family on the phone. Second, I watch novellas on Netflix like 'Sunderland ’til I die.' I started to watch it a few days ago, and I like it a lot. I think I will watch it all in the next few days (laughs). I play games on my phone like PUBG (online multiplayer game “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds”). Sometimes (Fire forward Robert) Berić is there and I play with him whenever my European friends go to sleep. Sometimes me and Berić play from nine until 11, so we find each other there. Then training with the team, and all the stuff we do. The days pass fast."
CFFC.com: How often have you thought about the unique timing of your arrival in Chicago -- days before the season was suspended -- and how much are you looking forward to playing again?
LS: "Yes, we just came from Europe, where (the virus) was there. People were more afraid. When we got to the plane, I told Boris this. We spoke about coronavirus for maybe an hour on the plane We didn’t know it was going to be here. In Europe, they were more afraid and they stopped things to prevent (spreading). Yes, it’s a difficult time when we came, but to be positive mentally is going to bring us something good. I hope everybody stays safe at home with their family in Chicago and the rest of the United States and the world."
"We need to keep going, to think positively. With that, you can pass your day much easier."