The St. Louis Ambush of the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) will be holding open tryouts through September 9-10 at Vetta Sports, scouting for a superstar they will develop and mold into the next legend playing for Soccer City, U.S.A.
Who knows-maybe the organization will come across a preeminent goal-scorer and playmaker like Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville alumnus Don Ebert? The front-office could spot potential in a no-nonsense, defensive specialist who reminds them of Tony Bellinger during the two-day event? Or perhaps the coaching staff will notice the intangibles when it comes to being a top-notch soccer player from a prospect and dubs him the next Daryl Doran?
The athletes willing to kick, block, pass, and hustle for a chance to play professional soccer in St. Louis will carry on a legacy established by the premier and iconic pitch performers of the past. For the goalies embarking on their journey this upcoming weekend, they will look no further to search for guidance and inspiration than from the man they called “Slobo.”
In his native Yugoslavia, he was simply known as Slobodan Ilijevski. In St. Louis, however, when a player excels at their sport in this town, the fans immortalize him/her with an everlasting moniker. The list goes on: “The Man”, “The Wizard”, “Jet Stream”, “The Golden Brett”, & “The Machine.” Well, St. Louis Steamers fans of the 1980s took notice of Mr. Ilijevski’s style of play and dedication to the sport that they christened him “Slobo.” It was an honor well-deserved for number 30. “Slobo” went on to capture two Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) Goalkeeper of the Year awards (1982 & 1984), set the league record for all-time games played by a goalie (391), notched a then-record 3.67 Goals Against Average mark in a single-season (1984), and helped navigate the Steamers to three MISL Finals appearances. Statistics and accolades will surely guarantee greatness for a St. Louis athlete, but “Slobo” was able to capture one instrumental honor during his tenure under The Gateway Arch: The loyal support from the fan base.
In the wild and wacky world that was the MISL, “Slobo” was possibly the league’s master of ceremonies during its existence. The league’s official orange soccer ball was the perfect reflection of “Slobo’s” personality on the field: eccentric, risk-taking, innovative, & colorful. His gumption to battle opponents in the boards like an extra defender to downsize their scoring attack made him the linchpin of a Steamers team known for their aggressive defense. The saves he corralled and penalty shots he denied generated an instant crowd frenzy at the Checkerdome louder than a Mike Liut glove save. His grit and tenacity to own the goal area and to never back down from any shot until the final whistle blew brought fans out of their seats during the entire contest. He once had the courage to dribble the ball up the field, with him completing two headers during the run, and attempted to score a goal. “Slobo” and his fellow Steamer cohorts, according to former KMOV Sports personality Tim Klutsarits, were treated like rock stars here in the ‘Lou. They were selling out games every single night, wearing uniform kits that coordinated with their unconventional “genre” of play and reeling in the fans from all across the viewing area to watch their next televised “gig” on KPLR TV. With all of the numerous characteristics and anecdotes throughout his playing career, “Slobo” still competed with a smile on his face and a heart the size of the arena where he dazzled his loyal observers.
His heart, unfortunately, got the best of him during a soccer tournament in Seattle. According to Soccer America Daily.com, “Slobo” passed away in 2008 of a rupture in the aorta two days after playing in the over-55 tournament. Long after he had professionally retired and graced his presence to the soccer fanatics of St. Louis, “Slobo” died doing what he loved to do, making a sensational save for his team.
“Slobo” may have left us way too soon, but his legacy will forever live on with those who watched him on their living room TV sets or the season ticket holders cheering for him at the Old Barn. The Ambush honored his legacy this past February with a bobblehead giveaway and a video tribute at halftime. The tribute fittingly replays his most memorable highlights (including his relentless mission to score that goal), but it displays the pride and passion of a man who loved the sport of indoor soccer; and, a player who became one of the prime ambassadors of a sport, indoors or outdoors, that carries a rich history within this city. He may have been born in a different country, but “Slobo” will always be a native son to the city of St. Louis.