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NYCFC 2024 Player Preview: Jovan Mijatović

The 18-year-old striker might be the brightest prospect ever to sign for NYCFC, but he'll still need to prove himself to get playing time this year.

Welcome to New York City: NYCFC striker Jovan Mijatović | Courtesy

The arrival of Jovan Mijatović last week brings quite a bit of intrigue to New York City FC.

An attack that functioned sputtered without a striker for one-and-one-half seasons now has two in Mijatović and Mounsef Bakrar (whose Player Preview by Andrew Leigh ran earlier today). Both of them have the potential to be among the best goal-scorers in MLS. And both carry relatively slim track records: The 18-year-old Mijatović has a total of 22 appearances in league games for Red Star Belgrade, while the 23-year-old Bakrar scored just 22 goals in four years of professional soccer.

Bakrar will be in the Starting XI in the season opener tomorrow. Not only did he prove himself during preseason, Mijatović's work visa is still being processed. But neither player is a guaranteed starter once the year gets underway. 

It looks like a season that will see two talented strikers compete for minutes and goals. As Martha Stewart says, "That's a good thing."

8 goals in 631 minutes

The rule of thumb for a striker is: Score one goal for every two games. This year, Mijatović scored eight goals in 14 appearances for Red Star Belgrade.

Even more intriguing, those eight goals were scored in just 631 minutes. Add to that two assists, and Mijatović has one goal involvement every 63 minutes. 

He ended his time at Red Star on a series of high notes. First, there was the substitute appearance on December 9, when Mijatović's 63' goal proved to be the game-winner over FK Mladost Lučani. Then, there was the start on December 16, when the 18-year-old scored a hat-trick against Spartak Subotica (which, incidentally, is the former club of new NYCFC center-back Strahinja Tanasijević, who wasn't playing that day).

The third goal was a stoppage-time header off a set piece. NYCFC could've used a few of those last season.

4 Champions League appearances

It was because of performances like these that Mijatović made four appearances for Red Star in the 2023/34 Champions League. All came off the bench in what was an unsuccessful campaign — Red Star finished at the bottom of Group G, and were winless in six games. But those minutes mean that Mijatović is the only NYCFC player to feature in the Champions League.

His most recent appearance was on December 13, when Red Star came tantalizingly close to stealing a result at home against Manchester City. When Mijatović came on in the 63rd minute, Red Star were down 0-2, but then they scored 13 minutes later. The game would finish 2-3.

Wearing #22, Mijatović looks cool and composed on the field. He makes smart runs, controls the ball, and comes oh-so-close to scoring in the 70th minute when his low left-footed shot caroms off the post. 

You can watch it here:

In some ways, the 18-year-old is already one of the more experienced players on this NYCFC squad. Red Star is what is considered a Big Club: The assumption is that you win every game you play. They might have the same market value as an Atlanta United, but they carry the expectations of a Rangers FC, or FC Porto, or Real Madrid. 

Mijatović will bring some of that Big Club swagger to New York City. But he'll still need to prove himself in a fast, physical league that surprises Europeans who expect an easier go of things. 

The real winner?

The real winner in Mijatović's arrival is head coach Nick Cushing, who now has two legitimate strikers on his roster. After being forced to play winger Talles Magno out of position for the better part of a year, Cushing now has two players who have the narcissistic mindset of a striker, that give-me-the-ball attitude that you need to make shot after shot and not care about the misses. 

The question is, will Cushing set out to establish a preferred Starting XI that he'll play whenever injuries and suspensions allow? That's what former head coach Ronny Deila did all the way to the 2021 title, and the preference of most MLS gaffers. 

Or will he make adjustments based on how his players are performing, and what opposition is next? Cushing now has options on both wings and in the midfield. With Mijatović and Bakrar in the lineup, he can completely transform the NYCFC attack in the middle of a game. 

These are champagne problems. 

Which is a welcome change after last year's scoring drought.