THE TWO SIDES TO SERBIAN WHITE EAGLES

Article by Stan Adamson
Photo by Djuradj Vujcic

Serbian White Eagles captain Dejan Jakovic striking the ball

There is little doubt that the Canadian Soccer League has earned a reputation for attractive soccer with good pace while being confined for decades to a regional location in the middle of the country. The league has become well-known also for importing many high level players and a select number of coaches on visas. Most return to their various countries, usually in Europe, while others decide to remain in Canada and eventually become Canadian citizens.

There are two sides to Serbian White Eagles. On one side the club has been a prominent player in the import game, resulting in considerable success on the field of play, while the less known and less obvious side is the encouragement and development of its young kinship that has resulted in a number of players of star quality in the Canadian soccer community.

The transfer of good players from overseas to the Canadian club began in earnest when in 1973 nine players were brought from the former Yugoslavia to form a more serious professional structure and more competitive in the National Soccer League, the forerunner league of today’s CSL. Serbian White Eagles has usually exhibited a proud stance and anything less than impressive does not bode well in the local Serbian community.

Success came in 1975 when Serbian White Eagles became the first Canadian team to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The Toronto area team lost to Mexican side CF Monterrey in Mexico, but to reach the final was a gigantic step which attracted a lot of attention in the community and with the media.

Serbian White Eagles then took a step back to play at the amateur level and re-grouped in 2006 to become a member of the semi-professional Canadian Professional Soccer League, today’s CSL. Dragoslav Sekularac, a former Yugoslav international with more than 40 national team appearances and a reputation for having been one of the top players in Europe, was brought to Canada as head coach. It all paid dividends as Serbian White Eagles were back in the spotlight to become one of the most successful clubs in the CSL’s long history. The team was also one of the most popular attractions in Canadian soccer while breaking records with high home and away attendances.

While players brought from Europe take most of the credit for the Toronto team’s considerable success, there has also been an underlying player development program going on in the local community and the recent appearance of Dejan Jakovic in the past season’s CSL games is a reminder of this.

Born in the former Yugoslavia, Jakovic was kindergarten age when in 1991 he arrived with his family to settle in Canada. He played his youth soccer in Toronto, Brampton and Vaughan and also at the University of Alabama. He was a standout to eventually be considered good enough to earn a trial with Red Star Belgrade. Jakovic was retained to play several games for the top Serbian club and it was during this period he was also considered by coaches at home to be one of the top youth defenders in Canada. He was impressive while appearing for Canada’s under-23 side and debuted for the Canadian national team in a winning game against Martinique in 2008. During the following decade, Jakovic made 41 national team appearances.

Jakovic signed for DC United of Major League Soccer in 2009, making approximately 100 appearances over four seasons as a well-established defender. He then ventured to Japan to accept a contract with Shimizu S-Pulse, a top club in that country, playing for three years before returning to MLS with New York Cosmos and Los Angeles FC. This was followed by a brief stint with Las Vegas Lights of the USL.

Returning to Canada in 2021, Jakovic joined Forge FC of the Canadian Premier League and was then signed by Serbian White Eagles in the 2022 season, playing his first game, a 1-1 draw against Toronto Falcons on June 26.

At 37 and in the twilight of a great career Jakovic played in his usual centre-back role while playing out the CSL season. At 6 ft. 2 inches he was one of the tallest players on the field, showed good positional play including moving up for his team’s corner kicks, challenged hard when necessary, distributed the ball with accuracy and exhibited a style that reflected the great player he has been, and still is to this day. “It’s great to have Dejan on the side and he’s made a big difference,” said club president Dragan Bakoc at a game early August.

Following a slow early season start, Serbian White Eagles went on to win its fifth CSL regular season title since entering the league in 2006.