Midfielder Djordje Mihailovic entered the 2019 season with momentum before having an up-and-down campaign. He’s hoping for more positives in 2020.
A year further removed from blowing out the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the Fire’s playoff loss to the Red Bulls in 2017, Mihailovic had a strong showing at the U.S. national team’s winter camp last year and scored in his debut with the senior national team.
He then began the Major League Soccer season in the Fire’s starting lineup before Nicolas Gaitan’s arrival changed his role. His playing time diminished, and the last of 16 starts came Aug. 14.
‘‘I kind of learned what professional life is about,’’ said Mihailovic, 21, who had three goals and two assists in 27 games. ‘‘I’m not always going to see the sunshine and rainbows. I’m going to have to go through tough times, as well, and that’s going to really bring the best out of me and how I react to being put in that situation now.
‘‘When a quality player like Gaitan comes, I have to show that I have the quality, too, to play on the field and not just sit back and say: ‘I guess he’s better than me. I’m not going to fight for my spot.’ When [Gaitan] came and I saw that my minutes dropped, I definitely tried to work harder in training. But the coaches didn’t really have that same attitude toward me.’’
Signed as a Homegrown player in January 2017, Mihailovic knows the 2020 season is an important one for his career. Now working under Raphael Wicky, a coach hired partly because of his experience with young players, Mihailovic has a chance to further establish himself in MLS and earn more time with the national team.
‘‘I think it’s huge,’’ Mihailovic said of what 2020 means to him. ‘‘This is my fourth season with the club, and I think it’s my eighth season [since] I first joined the academy. I’m at the age where I have to start making a name for myself and an impact with the team.’’
Wicky should help him do that.
Mihailovic said he was ‘‘very excited’’ when he learned the Fire had hired Wicky, whose coaching philosophy he saw during Wicky’s work with the U.S. under-17 national team. Now together with the Fire, Mihailovic said the first thing Wicky spoke to him about was his ‘‘mentality and the kind of effort I need to put out for the team.’’
‘‘He’s told me the technique and tactics are there, but if I give the energy and the work rate that the team needs, then I can be an important part of the team,’’ he said.
During the offseason, Mihailovic trained with German second-division club FC Nurnberg and got another taste of European soccer. Wicky is familiar with that terrain and knows how to succeed in Europe.
‘‘With his background in Europe and playing in the league and coaching FC Basel [in Switzerland], he has that European idea of a player that could prosper there,’’ Mihailovic said. ‘‘He told me from the first time we met that he’s going to try to make me the best player I can become. I’m definitely ready for that challenge.’’