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New Sporting KC striker Nikola Vujnović ready for ‘nice adventure’

Vujnovic running.jpeg
Posted at 3:03 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 16:03:31-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s been a whirlwind month for new Sporting Kansas City forward Nikola Vujnović.

The 25-year-old Montenegrin-born striker was enjoying a career renaissance with Voždovac in the Serbian SuperLiga in early February when his plans suddenly changed with a phone call from his agent.

“It all happened so fast, to be honest,” Vujnović said. “It all started at the beginning of February. I’d been with my team and then my agent contacted me. He told me there was a possibility that I could go to MLS. When he told me that it was MLS and Sporting Kansas City, I was so excited. I told him, if there is a possibility, I’m ready to go.”

Scouring the globe for a center forward after Mexican international Alan Pulido’s offseason knee surgery, Sporting KC’s quest landed on Vujnović, which the club acquired Feb. 15 on a year-long loan with the option to buy outright at season’s end.

“I knew a lot about of things about MLS, so it felt like it could be a nice adventure for me,” Vujnović said. “Later, I found out about Sporting Kansas City. I googled a lot and watched some videos, so I got to know the club better.”

After navigating the elongated P-1 visa process for a couple weeks, Vujnović finally arrived in Kansas City earlier this week and started training with his new team.

Vujnović announced his arrival with a cheeky tweet depicting a snow-covered scene of Kansas City, joking that he expected a warmer reception.

But in reality, he’s thrilled to join Sporting KC and already beginning to feel at home.

“The training facility is pretty insane and all the guys in the locker room, the coaches, the people around the club, they’ve all welcomed me,” Vujnović said in his introductory video conference Friday. “I was pretty impressed with them, because in Europe things don’t work like that. They all tried to make me feel like I belong here, so I was happy for that.”

He’ll need time to adjust to life in Kansas City and adapt his game to the rigors of Sporting KC’s system.

“Obviously, the weather hasn’t been very cooperative over the last couple days, and he just got in, so we’ve had to be smart about his training sessions,” Sporting KC Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes said. “But, first and foremost, he’s got a great character about him, easygoing in a good way, like he can probably adapt and adjust from that point of view very quickly to the group.”

Vujnović learned English from watching U.S. movies and TV shows. He’s also played professionally in Serbia, Spain and his native Montenegro, so he’s experienced culture shock before.

On the field, Vujnović is fluent in the language of the beautiful game.

“On the field, he, for sure, has a really good understanding of the game,” Vermes said. “From what I can see, he’s got work ethic and he seems to be in pretty decent shape. He was waiting for a long time to get his P-1 visa, so that put a little bit of a damper on (things), but you can see that he’s done work. That helps his acclimation period as well.”

Blessed with pace and skilled with both feet, Vujnović ought to be a nice complement to starting center forward Khiry Shelton.

“I think I’ll be fine,” Vujnović said. “I just need some time to adapt to my teammates to see what they want from me. Let’s hope we’ll do good together.”

Vujnović doesn’t mind playing away from goal, looking for opportunities to play the wingers through, and also shows great instincts in the box, while Shelton is more of a traditional target center forward.

“As a striker, I like to be like a false nine in the game,” Vujnović said. “I like to receive the ball between the lines. I feel like I’m strong there. Also, inside the box, I feel like I can smell the goal and smell the ball. I’m at the right place usually in the box.”

Vermes said game styles and situations will dictate how quickly Vujnović sees the field and how many minutes he logs.

Injuries limited Vujnović’s availability for two seasons, but he’s healthy again and had appeared in 22 SuperLiga games for Voždovac during the 2021-22 season. He was tied for fifth in the league with 10 goals.

Vujnovic celebrate.jpeg
Needing to bolster its front line after Alan Pulido’s injury, Sporting Kansas City announced the addition of 25-year-old striker Nikola Vujnovic. The Montenegrin center forward arrives on loan from Voždovac in the Serbian SuperLiga, but Sporting KC has the option to keep him beyond 2022.

Injury updates

Sporting KC remains without two of its three Designated Players and will be without them for the foreseeable future.

Forward Alan Pulido and midfielder Gadi Kinda both underwent offseason knee surgery.

Pulido is out for the season, while Kinda is expected back sometime in the spring.

Asked when Kinda might return, Vermes said, “I can’t tell you. I really can’t, because there’s so many steps that he still has to go through from running and playing and training and getting fit for soccer. So, he’s not close. It’s going to be a little while.”

Finally, defensive midfielder Uri Rosell remains sidelined with a hamstring injury, which he suffered in the season-opener at Atlanta United FC.

“He’s still not ready,” Vermes said. “... He’s working, I will say day-by-day.”

Remi Walter filled in for Rosell at the defensive midfielder spot and scored in the lone goal last Saturday in a 1-0 win against Houston Dynamo FC at Children’s Mercy Park.