His name might not be easy to pronounce, but it appears new Blast defender Emil Dragicevic will be easy to like.
Say it slowly: Drah-GEEC-a-vich. Practice it. Remember it.
"Emil is one tough player," said Blast coach Kenny Cooper, as he watched practice this week. "He won't take any prisoners and that's the kind of attitude we need."
The 5-foot-9, 158-pound defender looks more like a Sunday school teacher than a hard-nosed, physical athlete.
"Many people tell me I have the baby face," said Dragicevic, 31. "But on the field, I am a hard-working guy."
In St. Louis, where Dragicevic spent two seasons, he was an unsung hero. Playing amid a premier cast of defenders, including Fernando Clavijo, Brian Schmetzer, Mark Frederickson, Greg Muhr and David Eise, who is also with the Blast this season, Dragicevic did the dirty work, pounding opposing forwards.
He also showed his versatility by roughing up opposing defenders, scoring 14 goals and 14 assists, a total second only to Clavijo's (15 goals, 24 assists) among Storm defenders.
To those familiar with international soccer, Dragicevic's performance is not out of the ordinary. It is only a continuation of the past. For 10 years before coming indoors, he played outdoors in the Yugoslavian First Division, the last four with Dinamo in Zagreb. Before that, he helped the Yugoslav junior national team to two Yugoslavian Cups in the mid-1970s. And he has also spent two years with Sidney Olympic, a First Division team in Australia.
"I played well outdoors, but indoors suits me better," said Dragicevic. "Outdoors is slow. I like a quicker pace. To be successful indoors, you need to react quickly and you need to be able to pass the ball accurately. It suits me."
It suits the Blast too, because it is also getting a player who enjoys teaching and coaching summer camps in the offseason. With the salary cuts, many players are more interested in finding other jobs to supplement their incomes. But Dragicevic sees an opportunity, here, to share the game he has become so proficient in while playing outdoors around the world.
"Before I came to the United States, I did not think of it as a big soccer country," he said. "I have found I was wrong. So many kids are playing, everywhere. And in each camp I have coached, I have found several great talents. It is amazing to me. It is obvious their talents come from inside them. They have not had great teachers, but they have the instincts. I think the only problem in this country is the coaching needs to be better. The players with the skills are already here."
Besides the compatibility between Dragicevic and the Blast over summer camps, the three-year indoor veteran believes the Blast, as a team, will suit him better. Storm coach Don Popovic, a fellow Yugoslav, pressured him to stay with the Storm. But in St. Louis there were too many egos, too many stars.
"With Preki, now Branko [Segota], and Fernando and others, there are many who like to play their own game," Dragicevic said. "It is that way now and it was that way my first year there too: and that year, the Blast beat St. Louis eight games to none, because the Blast had guys who gave every energy for the team instead of for themselves.
"I am a team player. If I have to go one-on-one, I will. But in indoors the team that goes one-on-one does not win. The team that is there for each other wins. I think this Blast team is like that and I will give my 100 percent to make it so."
Dragicevic. It's a name Blast fans will like getting tangled up in.