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US Open Cup extends wait for Jovan Mijatović to make his mark

Mijatović followed his first MLS start by playing 90 minutes with New York City FC II in the US Open Cup, but the 18-year-old striker still hasn't flashed much of his sky-high potential.

Jovan Mijatović in one of those sharp new New York City FC II kits. Photo: New York City FC.

Jovan Mijatović has had an odd start to life with New York City FC — and proved an odd fit with New York City FC II during two appearances in their now-ended run to the US Open Cup Round of 16.

The 18-year-old striker, who arrived in February for a transfer fee close to $9 million, has made more starts and played more minutes with New York City FC II and in the US Open Cup than with big-boy New York City FC in MLS.

He hasn’t scored a goal at either level, and his opportunities in front of goal have been scarce against both MLS competition and the pair of USL Championship clubs he's faced in the Open Cup.

In last night’s 0-3 loss to New Mexico United that knocked New York City FC II out of the Open Cup, Mijatović was credited with the fewest touches, 24, of any outfield player.

It’s all over now, Baby Blues
Jovan Mijatović fails to score and Samuel Owusu is shown a straight red card as NYCFC II crash out of the US Open Cup after losing to New Mexico United.

The teen striker also missed a pivotal chance in front of goal in the 48th minute, dragging a shot wide after NYCFC II's standout attacker of the tournament, Jonathan 'JJ' Jimenez, slipped a pass to Mijatović in a shooting lane between two New Mexico defenders.

The match flipped after the miss, as New Mexico United almost instantly pushed forward, exploited space on the left vacated by a caught-out NYCFC II, and grabbed the only goal they'd need to walk out of Belson Stadium with a win.

Mijatović had three of his shots blocked, put two other off target, and won only one of the nine duels he was a part of with New Mexico players. So far the cleanest hit Mijatović has had in New York City colors was his perfect preventative tackle on Prince Owusu during the on-field scrum in Toronto a few weeks back.

It's been a strange, star-crossed start to life in New York City for Mijatović, not one many would have expected. His repeat involvement in the II squad's US Open Cup run raises an eyebrow, as does the timing of his second and final start in the 2024 tournament.

Mijatović was just three days removed from making his first MLS start in the Hudson River Derby. The 57 minutes he played this past Saturday vs. the Red Bulls almost eclipsed the 67 combined MLS minutes Mijatović had logged across his previous four substitute appearances for New York City.

Until his start vs the Red Bulls, the high-priced import from Red Star Belgrade had been a non-factor for the New York City First Team since heading off on international duty with the Serbia U-19 squad for a trio of Uefa U-19 Championships qualifiers in late March. 

Since that national team call-up, Mijatović saw his NYCFC career grind to a halt while also facing a unique and somewhat bizarre mix of work visa complications, injury issues that never popped up on any MLS injury reports, social media complaints from his grandmother about his playing time, to now multiple stints dropping down a division to play Open Cup matches with his new team's reserve side.

The intrigues and questions surrounding Mijatović have thus far been more numerous than his attacking contributions to New York City's first or second teams.

His involvement in the US Open Cup didn't translate to confidence-boosting goals like it did for Malachi Jones, nor did it serve as much of a clear indicator of what Mijatović can do, as it did to varying degrees for players like Agustín Ojeda, as well as the teens on Homegrown MLS contracts who anchor the NEXT Pro squad.

New York City leveraged having its reserve team in this tournament, tapping into the ability to move players between MLS and NEXT Pro teams throughout, but the Jovan Mijatović Open Cup gambit didn't pay off.

Yes, he got valuable match minutes and appears to have put his vaguely-reported injuries behind him, but Mijatović didn't have any moments in the Open Cup that underscored why he's considered such a prized prospect.

Mijatović at 18 years old isn't much different in age than core members of New York City II like Máximo Carrizo, Drew Baiera, Jonathan Shore, or Jacob Arroyave, but is viewed in a different light because of how he got here and what he's expected to do both in New York City and in his future elsewhere.

It would be foolish to write Mijatović off as a key player for New York City after this slightly rocky start, given his tender age and how early he remains into life with his new team.

This still has not been the kind of early impact New York City was likely hoping to receive from a player who told fans "Get ready to cheer, I will score many goals" in his introductory interview.