The Michigan men’s soccer team has a new player this season who is lighting up opposing defenses. His name is Nebojsa Popovic.
The forward is a graduate transfer from Oakland University spending his last year of eligibility in Ann Arbor. Since stepping on campus, he’s made an immediate impact, notching five goals and three assists in eight games.
The sports management program and overall academics at Michigan were paramount in his decision to play for the Wolverines.
“What I was looking for was to go to a school that had a higher education standard,” Popovic said, “and Michigan was the best school.”
So far, he’s happy with his choice, enjoying the University and its students — debating which is his favorite.
“The campus and the facilities are beautiful, it’s either that or the people,” Popovic said. “I got to meet a kid who wrestles for the Serbian national team, and he just qualified for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. To me, that’s crazy. I can’t believe he’s in my class.”
On the pitch, he’s loving the team and the game.
“I haven’t enjoyed my soccer this much in, I can’t remember,” Popovic said in a team video. “I think this is the most fun I’ve had in a very long time.”
The graduate student attributes his enjoyment to his teammates and their talent.
“I’m around guys who are just as good as me, if not better, and I think that makes a big difference. You always want to be in those kind of situations because then you’re going to grow as a soccer player and you’re going to get to learn from them, and it’s going to just make me better overall, and that’s just enjoyable.”
Popovic has connected with his teammates quickly, and fans watching the team can see the chemistry between the men up top.
But he believes the team is far from its peak.
“As we’re getting to know each other more and getting to know what we each like,” Popovic said. “I think that it is going to get better because then the communication aspect comes into it.”
That may be a troubling prospect for opposing goalkeepers, with Popovic’s offensive ability emerging as a top weapon for the Wolverines. With 9 matches still on the schedule, Popovic is on track to finish the season with 10 goals and six assists — staggering numbers for any forward, and collegiate career highs for Popovic.
Recognized for his combined two goals and one assist against Rutgers and Oakland, Popovic was awarded the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week. It was the first of the season given out by the Big Ten — an impressive accolade to jumpstart his season. But the forward felt differently about the praise.
“I mean I think it’s great, but that doesn’t come without my teammates,” Popovic said. “I think that’s just a testament to how well we’re playing together and I think if we keep that up, a lot of us will be getting those kind of awards … Soccer is not an individual sport at all. If the team doesn't do well none of us will flourish individually”
Still, while he appreciates the early accolades, Popovic only has one thing on his mind.
“I just want to win, that’s all I care about,” Popovic said. “I don’t care how we win. I don't care if I score or assist or make a run that’s off the ball to create space for us to score… I think that’s the biggest thing for us right now, just to figure out how we can beat every opponent we play.”
Michigan is currently 3-2-3 on the season and 0-0-2 in Big Ten play. Despite a tough schedule ahead, Popovic has confidence in the team’s ability and knows what it needs to do.
“Just keep doing more of the same thing, getting the right preparation in before games, and then following the coach's gameplans to a T,” Popovic said. “I think we still have a lot of potential that’s not yet fulfilled, so I think it’s only going to get better from here to be honest.”
Why does he feel that way? To Popovic, it’s simple. And it’s his favorite part about the team.
“The way we play,” Popovic said, “I love that style of play… I love to be a part of something like that, if we can keep that up, I’m just going to keep having more and more fun.”