Alumni spotlight: Former Cascades star Plavsic carving out pro soccer career in Sweden

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– photo courtesy Angelica Tånneryd, tannerydphotography.com” width=”725″ height=”333″ />

Sasa Plavsic’s exploits on the pitch this past season with IK Frej thrilled fans of the Swedish pro soccer club.
– photo courtesy Angelica Tånneryd, tannerydphotography.com

No matter what angle you examine it from, Sasa Plavsic’s journey from the University of the Fraser Valley men’s soccer program to the European pro ranks is a compelling underdog tale.

How many former Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) men’s soccer alumni go on to make a living playing the game in Europe? And how many of those can say they’ve helped their club craft a season so ascendant, the storyline could have been borrowed from a movie script?

But that’s Plavsic’s reality right now.

The 25-year-old striker established himself as a key contributor this year with IK Frej, a small Swedish club based in a suburb of Stockholm, and scored a number of key goals as the team gained promotion to the Superettan – the second-highest tier of Swedish pro soccer – for the first time in the its 46-year history.

“It’s been a little bit overwhelming,” said Plavsic, who is back in the Fraser Valley over Christmas to visit his family. “I’ve wanted to do this since I was really young. Now, it’s become a reality.

“My main focus now is to just keep developing and progressing. I think there’s still a lot for me to learn, and there’s room for me to develop and achieve more.”

Sasa Plavsic was a dynamic scorer during his days with the UFV Cascades men

Sasa Plavsic was a dynamic scorer during his days with the UFV Cascades men’s soccer team, racking up 20 goals over his three seasons.
– Tree Frog Imaging file photo

Plavsic, a graduate of Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary, is one of the most accomplished players in the history of the UFV Cascades men’s soccer program. He was among the top 10 scorers in the Canada West in each of his three seasons (2010 to 2012), racking up a total of 20 goals and 11 assists in league play, and he finished third in the conference with eight goals in 2012.

After completing his kinesiology degree in December 2012, Plavsic was among 102 players selected to participate in the USL pro combine in Florida the following January, and he ended up suiting up for the Vancouver Whitecaps’ U23 side that summer.

His play drew the attention of an agent from Sweden, and in August 2013, he went over for a series of tryouts and ended up signing with Syrianska IF Kerburan, a Division 2 club (the fourth tier of Swedish soccer). He had a good half-season for Syrianska, scoring seven goals in 11 games, which led to interest from Div. 1 clubs. He ended up signing with IK Frej in January 2014, after impressing their staff by scoring a hat trick in an exhibition game.

Frej is a tiny club – its home pitch has seating for just 1,250 fans, and they had been playing in Div. 4 as recently as 2001. But they put together a storybook 2014 campaign, going 16-7-3 to finish second in the Norra (Northern conference) of Div. 1. That gave them a chance to qualify for the Superettan via a two-game promotion/relegation playoff against Östers IF, the 13th-place finisher in the Superettan.

Östers IF is a much bigger club with a longer track record of success – they had been in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s top professional tier, as recently as 2013, and play in a sparkling new 12,000-seat stadium.

But on Nov. 6, Östers traveled to Frej for the first leg and suffered a stunning 3-0 defeat. Frej exploded for three goals in a span of five minutes in the second half, and Plavsic scored the second goal – a teammate headed the ball back to him, and he roofed it on a full volley in the 53rd minute.

He also scored in the second leg at Östers on Nov. 9, as the keeper misplayed his free kick early in the second half. The goal gave his team a 2-1 lead, and while Östers rallied to win the game 3-2, Frej prevailed 5-3 on aggregate.

Plavsic said that IK Frej went from going unmentioned in soccer season preview articles in major newspapers, to drawing a large media contingent to their training sessions later in the year to chronicle the unlikely ascent.

“It’s quite incredible that we actually got there,” he said. “It’s a small, ambitious club and they’re really happy about where they are right now.

“We’ll just continue to work hard and see where we go next.”

Plavsic, who scored nine goals in 25 games across all competitions this season, recently signed a new one-year contract with IK Frej, and the club’s impending move up to the Superettan is a great opportunity for him to further his career.

Plavsic was born in Croatia and moved to Canada with his family in 1997, and the fact he’s got a Croatian passport has helped him break into European pro soccer – not just because he doesn’t count as an import on the roster, but because it helps him overcome any preconceived notions that clubs might have about the calibre of Canadian players.

“I think the toughest step was just getting into the professional environment, because there’s limited opportunities for Canadian players,” he said.

“I’m happy with where I’m at right now, but I’m not content. Hopefully I can continue to move up the system and get into a bigger league in the next few years.”

Sasa Plavsic scored in each leg of IK Frej

Sasa Plavsic scored in each leg of IK Frej’s upset win over Östers IF in a promotion/relegation playoff in November.
– photo courtesy Angelica Tånneryd, tannerydphotography.com

Plavsic looks back fondly on his time at UFV, and credits a move from midfielder to striker after his first season on campus for accelerating his development. He’d played in the midfield his whole life, but after consulting with Cascades head coach Alan Errington in the spring of 2011, he was shifted to striker for an exhibition game vs. Quest University. He scored two goals that game, and the rest is history.

“We put him up front, and he just scored goals for fun,” Errington recalled with a chuckle. “Technically, he’s a very good player. He’s a good passer of the ball, and he strikes the ball well with both feet. Most importantly, he scores goals.”

Errington is extremely proud of what Plavsic has accomplished in Sweden.

“Sasa is one of those players that had the drive to be a soccer player,” he said. “It’s a credit to him to change his life, live away from his family and chase the dream that he’s had since he was a kid.

“He’s a very smart lad, very intelligent. He treats football like any of his other courses – he’s a student of the game, rather than just playing for fun. Players like that make good coaches.”

Indeed, while Plavsic’s immediate goal is to continue to climb the pro soccer ladder, his long-term dream is to coach at the university level.

“Ideally, it would be at UFV,” he said with a grin. “It would be a really great honour to come here and build the program up and look at ways I can develop players and get them playing professionally, or have good careers outside of the game . . . whatever they’re most passionate about.”

– IK Frej photos of Sasa Plavsic provided by Angelica Tånneryd. For more of Angelica’s work, visit her website or Facebook page.

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