As our days are filled with longer hours at work, dwindling vacation time, and increasing addictions to fast food and social media, we fail to realize how precious life can be. The norms of society work in ways in which we forget how crucial family and friends are to our daily lives. But as the Indy Eleven season slowly encroaches upon us, the newest member of the ‘Boy’s in Blue’ will remind everyone in Indianapolis of how valuable life really is- I can only hope his story has an enduring impression on us Hoosiers.
Siniša Ubiparipovic (pronounced sin-EE-sha OO-bee-pare-ee-poe-vich) is a nine year veteran of Major League Soccer and the North American Soccer League. Drafted in the third round of the 2007 MLS Super Draft by the New York Red Bulls, Ubiparipovic was a two time NSCAA All-American and Mid-American Conference Player of the Year in 2006, while attending Akron University. But what makes Ubiparipovic unique is his family’s story of the struggles to survive and escape a country torn apart by war.
Hailing from what is formally known as Yugoslavia, now Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ubiparipovic tells of a childhood we could never fathom. “During the Civil war down there we had to move once or twice due to war, but you know I feel like it has affected my childhood in several different ways,” stated Siniša. “First, it wasn’t easy and second it made me mature a lot quicker. It made me realize how precious life is and how precious every single moment of your life is.” With his Father Serbian and Mother Croatian we cannot begin to imagine what Ubiparipovic and his family went through after the breakup of Yugoslavia. The Bosnian War as it is known by, was a bloody civil war that coincided with genocide. The war only lasted three years, but it still has a lasting impact on the region today. “I grew up around many people with a similar situation as me,” Siniša said. “Which helped me bond with many of them and I still stay in touch with. My best friends growing up, I still talk to them. Not every day, but I talk to them minimum once a month, sometimes once a week. Depending on what’s going on, if there is any news on my side or their side.” I was scheduled for a thirty minute interview, which I was quickly reminded by Siniša that talking and discussing growing up in Bosnia may take up the entire session. This only shows the war has had a long and lasting impact on him and his family.
First, it wasn’t easy and second it made me mature a lot quicker. It made me realize how precious life is and how precious every single moment of your life is.”
From a young age it was Ubiparipovic’s dream to play soccer. “Ever since I was a child, ever since I can remember, I was with a soccer ball and loved the sport, followed it closely, watched many games, and I still do,” Siniša said. “The opportunity to play at the professional level pretty much my entire life I can’t be grateful enough for everything I have right now.” Growing up, his support and loyalty was for a Serbian soccer team. “My favorite team growing up was Red Star Belgrade. When I was really small and young they were successful. So obviously they drawn a bunch of kids my age to fall in love with them. They won the European cup which is called champions league today in 91,” Siniša stated. “The entire country was frantic about them. They had fans all over the former Yugoslavia pretty much, even though they were from the Republic of Serbia.”
Ubiparipovic’s favorite players growing up did not play for Red Star Belgrade but for the Galácticos. “During that time I enjoyed Real Madrid because they had Davor Šuker and Predrag Mijatović who were at the time were on the Yugoslavian national team. Later Šuker was Croation and Mijatovic was Serbian Montenegro. Mijatović was my idol I growing up. I watched his every game for Real Madrid and even Valencia before that. He was just a player I’d admired.”
Although his childhood was difficult, Siniša still had soccer. What is remarkable is that through all of the battles of the Bosnian War, the soccer associations still made an impression in this part Europe. As Siniša said, “So the childhood down there even though there was war and it was difficult, it was a great one. There was still plenty of soccer. Believe it or not the leagues were still going on.” Ubiparipovic played in the youth leagues of the professional teams in Yugoslavia from the age of 11 to 14 before his family made their way to the United States.
Ubiparipovic has been blessed to play for some remarkable coaches as a collegiate amateur and professional. In his senior year at Akron, Siniša had to opportunity to play for Caleb Porter. Now head coach of the Portland Timbers, leading the club to a MLS Cup in 2015, Porter is one of the hottest commodities United States Soccer has to offer. Of course, it is no surprise to Ubiparipovic that Porter went on to win an MLS Cup. He saw that Porter had the ability and potential to become an incredible coach even in his first year at the helm of the Zips. “I believed in him, I believed in his ability, and I believed in his approach to the game. I liked how he viewed the game and how he wanted to play it. He certainly proved that at the college level in the beginning. He changed the system a lot and he changed the college game for better I believe. During those years, the Akron teams played very attractive, very attacking minding possession in soccer that we see today at the top level, top clubs in the world.”
Another coach that Siniša has played for, followers of the NASL are familiar with. Marc Dos Santos only coached the Ottawa Fury for two years, but he guided the Ontario based club to an unforgettable season in 2015. “Yes everyone knows he’s a well-spoken guy in the media and he gets his point across. But it was a pleasurable time for me to play for him. He had similar views as Caleb when it comes to soccer. He wanted to play and he wanted to instill European soccer and European mentality in his players and the system that he played and I enjoyed playing for him. I have all the best to say about him.”
Recruiting a talented squad and building an attacking style of play, Marc Dos Santos constructed one of the most entertaining teams to watch this past season in the NASL. Now that Dos Santos has left to join Sporting Kansas City’s coaching staff, it seems what was built in Ottawa is gone. “It’s sad because we had a good group of guys, a good core. We had a great special locker room, everyone had respect for each other, everyone liked each other, everyone enjoyed each other, and we enjoyed working with one another,” Siniša said. “But it’s part of the game, its part of soccer, and its part of so to speak business. People and players and clubs will always look to better themselves and put themselves in a better situation. We all have families now and some will have some in the near future and we all have to put them in the best possible situation to support them.”
But what lead the 32 year old to sign with Indy Eleven? “I heard they had a good organization and they have good relationships with players. Players enjoy playing there. Fans are great, the attendance is great, one of the best in the league, if not the best. And it’s also close to my house, to my home in Cleveland. I couldn’t take a better spot and when I take all of those attributes and put them all together, I couldn’t be in a better position.”
Ubiparipovic’s style of play will add depth to an attacking midfield position that was occupied last year by Dylan Mares, when healthy. Coming off of a 2015 season that saw Ubiparipovic score 5 goals and 8 assists in 2012 minutes of action, he wants to do better in 2016. “Personally, I just want to have the best year yet of my career. I want the team to make the playoffs. I want to put ourselves is a situation to make the playoffs. If we manage to do that then the title is up for grabs and it’s a clean slate.”
Of course, being an experienced player includes a strict training and nutrition schedule. He trains four to five days a week, two of those days being strenuous to help prepare for the preseason. It is also important for Siniša to stay away from a carb and starch loaded food called bread. “Diet wise I just try and stay away from bread. It’s very difficult in my house hold but I’ve stayed up on it. My Mom cooks every day, she makes bread literally every day or every other day. Believe me that bread is amazing once you start eating it you can eat the whole loaf. I’ve been good and have stayed away from it completely because I know once you get going it’s hard to stop.” If he ever earns a brick from the Brickyard Battalion this coming season, they should have to include a homemade loaf of bread just for Ubiparipovic and the hard work he put into the game.
Siniša does not go too far away from the sports world when he is not playing soccer. “I enjoy watching other sports as well. I enjoy basketball and football. Being that I was in Canada for the last couple of years I wasn’t able to keep up a lot with, especially college football and college basketball. I’ve been completely out of it. But NFL and NBA I know, still watch, and I like to watch. Besides enjoying sports, the professional soccer player always finds time for his family and friends a few times a week during the offseason in Cleveland.
There is a possibility we could see him on the sidelines coaching the game he loves when he hangs up his boots. “I enjoy coaching. I coached a little for my Godfather in his youth club. I go once or twice a week. This offseason it’s been a little harder because I actually just got engaged so I have a bunch of other obligations I have to fulfill besides coaching. So I don’t have much time for that. In the near future I would like to continue soccer and at the coaching level.”
Indy Eleven and their supporters knew they were getting one of the best in the NASL with Ubiparipovic’s play making ability. What they underestimated was how much he has been through to escape a war-torn country, the sacrifices his family made, the adjustment to a new culture, and how grateful he is to be a professional soccer player. A remarkable story. A story that enthusiasts of the ‘Boy’s in Blue’ will come to appreciate once the 2016 season begins.