Striking a cord
By Matthew Ondesko Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union
To be good at your craft sometimes you have to be selfish. You need to take what it yours without be too worried about hurting the feeling of others. Some of the best strikers in the game of soccer are those you want to ball at their feet during the most crucial times off the game. They don’t shy away from the spotlight, but embrace it. Those are the strikers that are known world wide. Messi, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, you know them by their last names because they are that good.
With the game of soccer being more international in the United States, it’s not a sup rose anymore to see young athletes coming from Europe to play the game they love while earning a top-notch education.
As you look at rosters around the country, it isn’t uncommon to see half a roster made of European players - it’s an astonishing number. Players have been coming from all of the world including Italy, Serbia and Norway.
While many might not think of Norway as a soccer hotbed, they have produced some very good players over the years. One name to watch out for is current Buffalo State College sophomore Theo Pencic.
All Pencic has done since coming to Buffalo State is score goals. This season, Pencic has been on fire - scoring at alarming pace. His 12 goals includes three goals where he scored a hat trick. Having a second year in the states has allowed Pencic to settle in more - and the others teams are paying the price.
“Yeah, it’s been a very good start for me this season. Since it’s my second year here at Buffalo State, I have much more experience and knowledge about the teams we are facing. To me, settling in this year hasn’t been a very big challenge,” stated Pencic. “This year my coach has given me more responsibilities, and I consider myself as one of the leaders on the team. So therefore helping the young freshmen getting settled in has been more of my “role” this year.”
It’s a long way from Norway to Buffalo. After high school, Pencic took a “gap year” where he worked and played the game he loved. Thanks to Norway’s biggest college recruitment agency, Pencic found his way to Western New York.
Many would think it was a big adjustment for him to come to states, but that was’t the case. Pencic already had family living in Chicago that he would visit regular. So coming to Buffalo wasn’t any different.
The only thing that was different might have been the weather. Sure, the weather is kind of the same in Norway as here in Buffalo, but the biggest difference is the wind during the winter. Not many places have the high winds and minus wind chills like the City of Good Neighbors.
“I came to Buffalo State in the fall semester of 2018, so I had a whole semester to get used to the new culture, and combining soccer with school. When it comes to learning a new language it wasn't really a big challenge to me, because I have my grandmother that lives in Chicago, that I’ve been visiting, and kept in touch with since I was young. The bigger challenge was combining workouts, practice with schoolwork. But I figured it out, and ended up with a 3.0 my first semester (with a lot of help from my coach),” stated Pencic. “It's rough. The winters here are rough. When it comes to being cold and snowy, it's not very different from Norway. It's the wind, that makes it feel much colder. Already nervous for the winter that is coming soon.”
Before the Western New York turns from fall to winter, which could be at any time, Pencic, along with his teammates, is trying to lead the Bengals back to the post season. The Bgenals are stacked with talent and Penic has been leading the front line.
If you look at his game, one might say he tries to pattern it after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish star who it seems can score whenever he wants to in Major League Socce (MLS). Ibrahimovic is a big moving target who can do whatever he wants when he has the ball at his feet.
“If I had to pattern my game after someone it would be Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Even though he’s on the “wrong side” of the border from both Norway and Serbia, he’s one of my big idols that I look up to,” stated Pencic. “He’s a natural finisher, and no one can match he’s mentality. He’s just an unbelievable player.”
Some would say that Pencic is also a natural scorer. After a strong freshman campaign, Pencic knew that teams would be gunning to stop him. That still hasn’t stopped Pencic from doing his thing.
If he isn’t scoring goals he’s setting them up, which makes him even more dangerous. Pencic already has four assists on the season. Being an all-around player has helped Pencic from getting marked as tight as some teams would probably want to do.
If they put two players on him, Pencic will easily look for the open man.
“Being a solid striker to me is a combination of being in the right place at the right time, but also have the ability to take your chances when you get them, because you never know how many you’re gonna get throughout the game. What’s also important to me is being a team player. Don’t get to caught up on scoring goals, but focus on helping your team in general, and then naturally you will get your chance to score. I believe that’s key,” stated Pencic. “I think it's very important that a striker is not to be selfish. Of course a striker needs to always be hungry for goals, and take the opportunity when he gets ́s it, but if your teammate is in a better position than you, you should pass it.”
Thank goodness for Buffalo State that soccer has worked out for Pencic. If the beautiful game didn’t work out then Pencic probably would drifted to tennis. As he likes to tell the story, his dad isn’t big into soccer. He always liked soccer.
So, besides playing soccer, Pencic also played tennis - and is a very good tennis player. Even to this day, Pencic plays when he can. He lives with a host family here in WNY who just happens to have a son who is a nationally ranked tennis player.
Who knows, maybe Pencic can trade the ball in for a racket.
“If I didn’t play soccer, I would probably play tennis. When I was younger, I played a lot of sports, but my dad was a big fan of tennis, and not so much a soccer fan, so he really wanted me to play tennis, and I did for a long time,” stated Pencic. “Every summer if he’s in a good enough shape, we play together in Serbia, which is where I have my other side of the family. I still play tennis today, when I got time. I’m so lucky that I live with a host family here in Buffalo, and one of the kids in the family is a nationally ranked tennis player, so I get to play with him and his dad from time to time. He works me hard, so I really get to work on my footwork and fitness.”
But, for now, Pencic is working on his soccer skills, which are pretty good. Her likes the type of system that his coaches play. It allows him to aggressive with the ball at his feet, which is something that he thrives in.
“I really enjoy playing up top with coach Cardillo, because he wants us to play attractive and technical soccer, even thou