It’s Tuesday afternoon, and it’s nearing halftime of the Fulham-Brentford match that will decide the final team promoted to the Premier League.
The score is still tied at zero, and nearly 4,000 miles from Wembley Stadium, Boris Sekulić is watching the match from his apartment in Chicago. The 28-year-old defender had just wrapped up training with his new team, the Chicago Fire, got home, and flipped on the match.
Some guys need a break from soccer away from the field. Sekulić can’t get enough of it.
“I’m watching my ex-teams, mostly,” Sekulić told Hot Time in Old Town. “And I’m watching Serbian League, and of course Champions League, Europa League when they play. So, I watch a lot.”
Sekulić grew up playing soccer and basketball in his native Serbia, so he’s also a big NBA fan. Before signing with the Fire in February, he’d never been to Chicago, or the United States. But, he knew two big things about the city—the Chicago Bulls played here, and hundreds of thousands of Serbian people now live in the area.
Sekulić doesn’t have a favorite NBA team, but he likes cheering for the league’s Serbian stars, in the way many Americans pull for guys like Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Tyler Adams. The pandemic meant he hasn’t been able to go to an NBA game like he had wanted, though.
“I hope I will have a chance to see them live, but we have to wait until next season, probably,” Sekulić said.
Joining the Fire
Sekulić spent seven years at two different clubs in Slovakia—a time he looks back on fondly. He’s a proud Serb through and through, but Sekulić earned a Slovakian passport during his time there, and was called up for two matches with the country’s national team.
“It was a really good experience, and I’m happy that I achieved this, because it’s not easy,” Sekulić said. “I was there seven years, and I really, really love that country. I am Serbian, but I also really love Slovakia.”
After spending the last season playing in Poland’s top division at Gornik Zabrze, Sekulić got word the Fire were interested in signing him in late December or early January, he said. After that, it was a long road getting here. First, the negotiations between the Fire and Gornik Zabrze dragged out for weeks. Then, when the deal was finally done, Sekulić was one of many new Fire signings who experienced delays getting their U.S. visas.
Sekulić finally got to Chicago late on March 7, after the Fire had just wrapped up a 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution. He had a medical exam on Sunday, and got to meet his new teammates in training on Monday, March 9.
After three days of training, the COVID-19 pandemic stopped everything.
“On Thursday, they said on Friday we can not go (to Orlando to play Orlando City). Everything is canceled,” Sekulić recalled. “In Europe, this whole virus thing started a little bit earlier. But, for sure, we didn’t know that everything would be like this. We all thought that it would end faster.”
So, for the next few months, Sekulić was basically alone in a new city and country. He hasn’t seen his girlfriend in person since moving here, because she can’t get a visa to get into the country right now. He changed hotels three times in the first month, while waiting to find an apartment.
Luckily, Sekulić was able to find a place downtown near fellow teammates Luka Stojanović and Robert Berić, who have both become good friends.
“We managed, somehow,” he said. “It’s good for me that I have Luka and Robert that live so close to me. So, we were spending some time together. We were running sometimes together.”
Boris said his Fire teammates and coaches made him feel welcome right away, even if it was over computer screens.
“All people in (the) club are really, really, nice,” Sekulić said. “Really nice to me and Luka, after we came, we were feeling really, really good. They accepted us fast, and through all these video apps and everything, they were really OK. We had everything we needed, like food, training gear, and everything. So, really everything was organized good, so it really helped us.”
Inside the bubble at “MLS is Back”
Finally in May, Sekulić got to begin training with his new club, where it became clear the coaching staff was impressed with his size, strength and flexibility. The 6’ 2” Serb is usually a right back, but he can play centrally as well.
On July 1, the team traveled to Orlando to enter the MLS is Back Tournament bubble, an experience that brought him closer to his new teammates.
“We had lots of time in Orlando to meet each other, so we don’t feel like new players,” Sekulić said. “It was also very weird. We were in hotel, alone in rooms. We have to keep distance, and everything. But, we had meals together, and meetings, and we were able to train normally. It was really hot, also! We don’t have this in Europe!”
After experiencing yet another delay—this time due to a schedule change after FC Dallas and Nashville SC had to drop out—Sekulić finally got to play his first match for the Chicago Fire, a 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders on July 14.
He started again in the next match, a 2-0 loss to a tough San Jose side. But it was the 2-0 loss to Vancouver—where the Fire gave up two through balls that led to goals right after a 93 minute weather delay—that left him fuming. Looking back on that match, the defender is brutally honest about what went wrong.
“We were controlling the game for 60 minutes, and after (the) thunderstorm, we really conceded two cheap goals, and we lost the game,” Sekulić said. “So, I think we’re mostly disappointed with this third game, because everything was in our hands.
“We started slow after the delay, but it was same for them, so I can’t use this as an excuse. These goals we conceded were, I can say, stupid. And, before that, we were really controlling the game. They didn’t have one shot on goal. So, it’s a really bad feeling, because we wanted to go through. We were a new team, but we wanted to do something immediately.”
Looking forward to Soldier Field
Sekulić’s strange first season in Chicago continues. He’s been with the Fire for five months now, and he’s yet to play a home match. He’s never played in front of Fire fans. The team is back in training with an eye toward restarting the 2020 regular season later this month, but that’s not yet official, and even if fans are allowed inside Soldier Field, it would have to be in very low numbers.
Whatever happens, he’s hopeful the team will give Fire fans something that will make them proud—wherever they might be watching.
“We have a chance to do better, and I hope we will. We train really, really hard,” Sekulić said.
And with that, our interview concludes. The second half of the Championship play-off final is about to start, and Sekulić will be watching.