Soccer star Subotic has a choice: His native land or adopted U.S.?
Neven Subotic has emerged as a bright young star in Germany's Bundesliga
Subotic's family fled his native Bosnia for Germany; he was raised in the U.S.
Defender must declare nationality by next year; U.S. could use him desperately
With war on the horizon, Neven Subotic's Serbian family fled Bosnia in 1990 when he was 18 months old and settled in Schömberg, a small town in Germany's Black Forest. As refugees with few options, the family moved into the attic of the clubhouse of a local soccer team that his father joined.
"We lived there because we had nowhere else to stay at that moment," said Subotic. "So with the soccer field right in front of the door, it all started. I was always playing with my dad, and I always watched when he played with the team. Whenever I wanted to kick around, I could find someone to play with me."
Neven's father, Zeljko, had played pro ball in the former Yugoslavia. Neven started playing organized soccer for TSV Schwarzenberg at age 7 while spending time on the ball whenever he could.
"Pickup games were standard there," said Neven. "We played before school, during school, in breaks, and after school. There was a religion class at school, and when it took place a few other students and I had to go to another empty classroom, because we were of another religion [than] the one being taught. And there we would play soccer with a tennis ball until the class had finished and we could return to our normal class."
Neven enjoyed his life in Germany and was disappointed when his parents announced that they would have to leave -- their German residence authorization expired when he was 11 years old. The family opted to move to the U.S. in 1999.
Neven would return to Germany seven years later to pursue a pro soccer career. After two years with Mainz 05, including the 2007-08 season in which Kicker magazine named him the second division's top central defender, he moved to top-tier Borussia Dortmund on a $5.5 million transfer.
The 6-foot-4, 194-pound Subotic's fantastic start at Dortmund -- he scored three goals in his first four games -- prompted the German national team to court his services, but eventually it decided that under FIFA rules he wouldn't be eligible. The U.S., for which he has played on the Under-17 squad, hopes he will stay in its program. He is also eligible to represent his native Serbia or Bosnia-Herzegovina. Subotic has until his 21st birthday (Dec. 10, 2009) to make a decision on which nation's jersey to wear.
Although Subotic has spent most of his years in Germany, his American soccer experience helped him get to where he is today.
A day in the park
The Subotics settled in Salt Lake City, where a cousin of Zeljko's lived. Neven had taken English classes in his German school, was especially eager to understand TV shows, and within three months became fluent.
He was disappointed that the kids in school didn't play much soccer, but his father bought him a ball and he kicked around on a nearby tennis court. Eventually, he played for the Sparta Gold and Impact Black youth clubs.
After a year and a half, the family moved to Bradenton, Fla., so that his sister, Natalija, could attend the Bollettieri Tennis Academy at the IMG Academies, which is also home to the U.S. U-17 national-team residency program. The Subotics lived across the street from the academy and Neven would train on his own and with his father at G.T. Bray Park.
That's where he was spotted by Keith Fulk, one of the U.S. U-17 assistant coaches.