March 7th was a different time.
After a lengthy visa process, Boris Sekulić touched down in Chicago from Serbia at last, and heralded his arrival with a photo in front of the city's sparkling skyline alongside fellow Fire newcomer Luka Stojanović.
Stojanović Sekulić— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) March 8, 2020
arrived in Chicago pic.twitter.com/FUQUexsTxf
Four days later, in an interview with ChicagoFireFC.com from his temporary residence at Chicago's Blackstone Hotel, the 28-year-old defender discussed his path to MLS, his goals for his American journey, and his excitement to get started.
The very next morning, MLS announced that the 2020 season would be suspended due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the six weeks since that conversation, Sekulić has since found a more permanent residence, and is focused -- alongside his new teammates -- on keeping as fit as possible from home for when play does resume.
We caught up with Sekulić this week to revisit that original interview and learn more about his on-going adaptation to life in America under unprecedented circumstances.
Read highlights from 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: How did you learn of the interest from the Fire and what were those early conversations like?
Boris Sekulić: "I think it was maybe the beginning of January that my agent called me and asked me if I’m interested, because (the Fire) are interested. So I said 'yes', and they started negotiations with my club in Poland. In the first two or three weeks, three times it happened that everything was done. I thought that I was coming, but, we had some problems. After one month of negotiations and everything, I applied for a VISA. I was waiting for the VISA for three weeks, and then on Saturday I am here, so it's been only four or five days."
CFFC.com: How much did you know about Major League Soccer prior to accepting the Fire's offer?
BS: "To be honest, not much, but of course I knew many players playing here. The time difference is big, so in Europe not many people can watch the games over here. Seven or eight hours is a bit too much. But, of course, I know players from here. A few weeks ago I called Albert Rusnák from Real Salt Lake, so he told me all the best about the league and about life and everything. It was really helpful. He’s from Košice, a city in Slovakia. I played there for four years, but I met him in the national team, so I texted him. He called me and he told me many useful things."
CFFC.com: As you look ahead to your Fire debut and beyond, what are your goals for your first season in MLS?
BS: "My last 3-4 clubs, we were all playing for championships and titles. I played in two countries -- maybe they are not the top European countries -- but they are the best clubs in those countries. Every year I was fighting for something -- a cup or the league -- so I think I’m used to this. The good thing about this league is every team can win. It’s pretty balanced. It’s important first to think about this playoff. Every team should have ambitions to first of all go to playoffs and then to do something further."
CFFC.com: What's the proudest moment of your career to-date?
BS: "Even though I am from Serbia, playing for the national team of Slovakia -- the first match -- that’s the best moment. Also, the cups I won in Slovakia. But, (when it comes to) transfers, right now I have the best feeling."
CFFC.com: How would you describe your style of play to those who may be unfamiliar?
BS: "I can play in every position in defense, maybe even some positions in the middle. I’m a team player. I will always do what the coach says or what the team needs. I think that’s the best thing I hope the fans will see. But, let’s say as a right defender, I’m also trying to help the offense, so we will see."
CFFC.com: It's only been a short time, but what are your impressions of the city of Chicago so far?
BS: "Everyone from Europe, when they come here, I think they’re pretty impressed with this downtown and the city center. We can see this only in movies. All of this is pretty different from Europe, so that’s of course my first impression."
CFFC.com: How much have you heard about the European communities in Chicago?
BS: "They say in Serbia that Chicago is the city with the most Serbians after Belgrade, so it’s familiar to us. Also I was playing one year in Poland and they say that in the United States in general -- but especially in Chicago -- there are many Polish people, so I knew this."
CFFC.com: You're Serbian-born, have a Slovakian passport, and have experience playing in multiple European countries. How many languages are you comfortable speaking?
BS: "I speak Slovakian because I have also Slovakian citizenship and play for the national team. Polish is similar and I understand it, it it’s hard for me to speak because I know many similar languages like Slovakian, Czech Republic, Polish, Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian, and many others. Everything is similar, you know? So I understand all of them, but let’s say I can speak Slovakian good. Polish…I spoke with Frankowski a little but and he understood me (laughs), so ask him."
April 22, 2020
CFFC.com: Despite the circumstances, you've been able to secure an apartment downtown since the last time we spoke. How are you adjusting and how have you been occupying your time?
BS: "At the end of March, I moved to an apartment. Now I’m here for more than three weeks. I’m next to the river and very close to the lake. We were (at The Blackstone) for more than two weeks, so it was really, really good - the whole atmosphere. The whole staff there is nice. They helped us with food. They were bringing us food because the restaurant was closed after a time. I changed to two other hotels after, but the Blackstone was the best one."
"The first two weeks in my apartment, first I was waiting for furniture. I ordered a little bit a few days before I moved, so when I came I had just a mattress. After a few days, other things started to deliver. The first two weeks I was assembling everything, because -- with the virus -- it was not possible for anybody to come from those companies. I had to do it also with Luka also in his apartment, so the first weeks we had just trainings and assembling furniture. That’s how we killed our time (laughs). Now we’ve finished everything, so we have a little more free time."
CFFC.com: How much have you reflected on the timing of your arrival in Chicago, literally days before the season was suspended?
"Yeah, we came and then everything stopped. We joked about it. In Europe it started a few weeks earlier, so we came here with some information. We just didn’t know that it would be like this. It was good that we came that week, because one week after that they closed the airports for European citizens. If we were late one more week, we wouldn’t have come at all. It was the last moment for us to come. Luckily, we got visas and everything."
"After we came, we had three days we trained normally with the team, then we had one free day. The next day we were supposed to go to Orlando, but they cancelled everything. When we came, I wanted to play immediately because with matches you can adapt faster in the team, but I hope now we will start training soon when the situation will be normal. I hope we’ll have a few weeks to prepare with the team, to meet everybody, and to see how coach want us to play. We’ll have time to make something good of the situation."
CFFC.com: We've seen some videos of the team doing yoga and working out together over video chat. How has the coaching staff supported you guys while you're separated?
BS: "These video trainings are helping. It’s really good, because it’s more serious and they can check on us and show us if we do something wrong. They brought us also some weights, medicine balls, and kettle bells, for example, so that’s really helpful. Also we have food. Two times a week they’re brining us food for a few days. Really, we have everything. I have friends in Europe in some clubs, and it’s not very good there. For now, here, really we have everything. When we think about the situation, having all this stuff, that’s really helpful. Also with the doctors, we have a long video call every one, two weeks and they’re explaining to us what’s happening and what to do. They keep us updated."
CFFC.com: It sounds like you're keeping a healthy perspective on the situation. How are you keeping in contact with friends and family overseas throughout all this and how are they doing?
BS: "They have bigger restrictions than here. In many countries, they cannot go out at all. In Serbia, for example, we had Easter this weekend and you can’t go out for those three or four days at all. You can just go to the grocery store or if you have special permission. I think it’s worse there. They are mostly at home in quarantine. There’s this time difference of seven hours, so we are communicating with them in the mornings, so we use this time to chat or video call with them."
"I was 19 when I left home, and I had a phone without wifi. I was in a hotel without wifi. I was waiting a week to go to a place to Skype with them. Now, with all this technology, it’s much easier. It’s really helpful when you’re so far. I’m nine years not in Serbia, not home. It will be 10 years this summer, so I’m used to this. There’s no problems now with phones and everything, so that’s good."
CFFC.com: You got just a taste of training and being around the team the week you arrived. What are you looking forward to most about getting back at it once the suspension is lifted?
BS: "Like every player -- not just in our team, but everywhere -- that’s what we miss most. We have trainings where we can run and do whatever, but it’s really different when you train with the team normally and have matches. We were there just three days, but we saw all this excitement about playing the first home game in Soldier Field, so we all miss this and we all hope soon this will be over and we can start doing our jobs and what we love."