Former South Florida Bull to play in Champions League Final
When Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich play for the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley on May 25, virtually all of Germany will have a vested interest in the final. But at least one college soccer program in the U.S. will have a personal tie to the final unlike any other.
In what is most likely a first for college soccer, former South Florida Bull Neven Subotić will be lining up at Wembley as the centerback for Borussia Dortmund, completing a journey to the top of the soccer world that had humble beginnings some seven years ago as a collegian in Tampa, Florida.
Subotić, a former U17 and U20 player for the U.S. who now plays internationally for Serbia, played just one season at South Florida before moving onto Mainz 05 in the Bundesliga, but his name is no doubt one recruits to the program still regularly hear because of a career trajectory that has led him to the pinnacle of club football success.
Born in Yugoslvia to Bosnian Serb parents, the 24-year-old ended up in the U.S. in 1999 when his family’s residency in Germany expired and they settled in Salt Lake City with a family member to avoid deportation back to Bosnia.
After moving with his family to Bradenton, Florida, for his sister to attend the Nick Bolletieri Tennis Academy, Subotić was discovered by a U.S. U-17 coach and offered a spot in the residency program (under the tutelage of current Philadelphia Union coach John Hackworth, himself a former Bulls coach). He made 10 appearances with the U-17 team and 2 with the U20s before making his debut for Serbia in 2009 and appearing in the 2010 World Cup.
Though collegians have played in the UEFA Champions League before – former Virginia Cavalier Claudio Reyna made eight appearances for Rangers from 1999-2001 – the significance of a college soccer player making it to a stage as big as the Champions League final is an entirely new level for athletes of not just soccer, but any sport with ties to the U.S.
In Germany, where kids growing up dreaming of Champions League glory, the South Florida connection is still significant enough to warrant a snarky mention in his bio on the team’s website.
“In the land of baseball, football and basketball, of all countries, he made it as a ‘soccer’ player,” his bio states before completely whiffing on knowledge of the U.S. soccer pyramid. “As the U.S. don’t have a proper league system, Neven played for the college side of the University of South Florida, and after good performances was soon called up for the U.S. youth national team.”
Barring an injury, the final will be Subotić’s 15th appearance in a Champions League match. Since joining Borussia Dortmund in 2008, he’s received winners medals for a pair of Bundesliga championships and a German Cup title.