Dejan Jakovic turned 35 a couple weeks ago, in the MLS bubble.
The Canadian, in his third season with Los Angeles Football Club, has already surpassed his league appearances mark from last year, when he made just three regular-season appearances. Thrust into the spotlight after Walker Zimmerman was traded to Nashville SC in February, Jakovic has been an unlikely fixture on LAFC’s backline in 2020.
Now one of the few grizzled veterans on a very young squad, Jakovic, who has played in Europe, Asia and the American lower leagues in addition to his MLS tenure, is taking it all in stride.
“Just playing my game,” Jakovic told reporters Wednesday when asked what has changed for him this year in his preparation and mindset. “Approaching every game the same and focusing on the little things. You’ve gotta be sharp and ready for 90 minutes and you never know when you’re going to be called on to make a play and you just have to be ready for that. I think we’ve been very good, we’ve been playing very well defensively. There’s been a couple of little hiccups that we’ve run into but I think the last performance vs. Seattle we kind of showed we’re a good defensive team, we can keep a team from scoring and play our brand of football.”
LAFC are gearing up for Friday’s quarterfinal showdown in the MLS is Back Tournament against Orlando City SC, with head coach Bob Bradley admitting the turnaround from Monday’s win over the Seattle Sounders leaves little time to switch gears for the next game.
“We had a couple of games where we had a day off after, a start-up day, a good training the next day and we were able to have a -1 for some preparation,” Bradley explained. “We’ve lost a day, both before Seattle and now before Orlando, so that feels a little bit tight.”
For Jakovic, advancing in the knockout stage does not change the preparation for the players just because the stakes are raised.
“It’s not any different. We’re approaching the game just like any other game, whether it’s group stage, semifinals, quarterfinals, finals. We’re going into the game to play our best football, the way we know how to play, and that’s all there is to it,” he said.
With LAFC’s attack getting most of the headlines, and the defense in some respects seen as the team’s Achilles heel, Jakovic paid tribute to a rather surprising Orlando City side but said ultimately, LAFC are going to do what they do best.
“They’re obviously a very good team, they’ve done well. They obviously haven’t conceded many goals. We’re not going to be changing that much up. We’re going to continue to play our game but we’ll take a look at where we can attack them and how we can go about being them and moving on to the semis,” Jakovic said.
And while the current bubble conditions are certainly nothing he’s ever seen, Jakovic is doing what he’s done throughout his career, roll with the situation and see what he can do.
“We had one objective coming into this tournament and that’s obviously winning the tournament. I feel like the further you go, the easier it gets. You get closer to achieving that goal. The bubble, it’s the same for everyone, you know? A lot of the guys are doing their own thing, staying in their rooms and then going out, training. It’s a little repetitive but that’s to be expected.”
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