PSP talks with Union draft pick Dzenan Catic

Photo: Earl Gardner

Philadelphia Union selected Dzenan Catic with the 31st overall pick in the 2015 SuperDraft. It was the first pick Philly had, and they used it on a player who tore up the draft combine. Catic was ineligible to play in NCAA competition because he signed with German club Kaiserslautern out of high school. In NAIA competition at Davenport University, he put up an astounding 39 goals last year, the most by any NAIA player since 2005. Catic spoke to PSP about his role at Davenport and his focus on finishing. 

Philly Soccer Page: First of all, congrats on the championship. It sounded like a pretty crazy game. 

Dzenan Catic: Thank you. Yeah, it was pretty crazy. It was a lot of fun though.

PSP: And you hit the penalty, right?

DC: Yeah, I hit the penalty to tie it up.

PSP: And you hit a penalty in the semi-final as well, right? But that one you hit the crossbar and the ball bounced down on the line…

DC: Yeah, in the semis, I had another penalty as well. I think we were winning 2-0 at the time [Note: Dzenan actually scored both of those goals] and I had a penalty and hit the crossbar and somehow it went in.

PSP: Were you thinking about that at all in the final?

DC: Not really, to be honest. It was a different day and a different game. It was a different scenario so not really, no.

PSP: Great. So walk me through your draft experience. Did you have any hints the Union had interest in you?

DC: Yeah, I knew the Union was interested. I had a good meeting with them in Florida when I was down there for the combine. But honestly, I had no clue what was going to happen going into that day. It was all a bit hectic and weird but when it happened I was pretty happy and now that I’m here I’m excited and ready to go.

PSP: Did you pay much attention to the MLS season last year? Had you seen the Union play much? 

DC: I have not seen them play much. I did watch a few playoff games but that was about it, to be honest.

PSP: Tell me about the role you played at Davenport. 

DC: I played as a forward. I think we played a 4-5-1 the majority of the season. Sometimes I had the freedom to drop back in as well. But most of the season I played as the target forward.

PSP: Was it a true 4-5-1 or were you pushing the wingers up into a 4-3-3 going forward? 

DC: Yeah, defensively we played like a 4-5-1, then offensively it would turn into a 4-3-3 where the wingers would get really high. It depended on what the opponent did and we kind of adjusted to that.

PSP: I’d like to ask you a couple questions about your senior year. Looking at your stat line… it might be embarrassing to hear someone say it to you, but that’s a pretty crazy stat line you put up. You had the most goals since 2005 in NAIA. And you had a pretty good junior year, but then a huge leap in the senior season. What did you do between seasons to prep? Anything differently that you did with preparing for the next level in mind?

DC: To be honest, I don’t think I did much differently other than the fact that I had actually gotten a chance to play this past summer before my last year at Davenport. My first year — I only played two years, so I don’t know if you want to consider it a junior and senior year — but before my first year, I went and tried to play PDL but I got hurt that summer so I wasn’t able to play. So I went into that first year without having played during the summer. So I was training on my own.

Then before this last fall, I played PDL for the Michigan Bucks in the summer and I think that really helped me out going into the season and gaining more confidence. It was just a good way for me to play, and going into preseason I was already fit so it was just a perfect scenario, really.

PSP: When you’re scoring that often, do things seem to slow down? It’s so rare to have the kind of return rate you had on your shots, did you start to feel any different? 

DC: Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve always trained in a way where I’ve practiced scoring goals from a very young age, so I just try to concentrate more and more on goalscoring as I go through my career. I think that the reason I was able to do that is that I had good players around me.

I just went into the season on a high because we had won PDL, we had done all these great things in the summer. So going into my last year at Davenport, it was just easy, I was free-minded, and it all just happened the way it did.

PSP: I want to ask you more about putting so many shots on frame. When people are unfamiliar with soccer and ask, “Why so few goals scored?” one response is, “Well, there’s a goalie in the way.” But also, even good strikers don’t put a huge percentage of shots on frame. You put 57% on frame. So when you say you “practice goalscoring,” what are you doing?

DC: It’s just about doing drills from different angles and putting as many shots as you can on target. That’s basically all it is. You want to hit the target every time you shoot, try to make the goalie work. You try to shoot with your left foot, with your right foot, all that stuff. So when you get the opportunity in a game, you put it away.

PSP: Do you look at your shooting form on video? Any of that kind of analysis, or is that overthinking it? 

DC: I try not to overthink it, like you said. I train in a way where I want to know where the goal is at all times; whether my back is facing towards goal or whether I’m looking at goal, I know where the goal is at all times. So once I open up space for myself to shoot, I know where I want to put it. Just kind of having an instinct of where you are in the box, things like that.

PSP: Over your two years at Davenport, what do you look back and see as the things you really improved upon or changed in how you view the game? 

DC: I think the last two or three years, I’ve really focused on my decision-making without the ball. So, for example, if we have the ball and are going forward, I’m trying to either drag defenders out of the way and make room for someone else, or make better decisions on timing and how I make my run and where I want the ball played to me.

I think the last two years I’ve really tried to focus on the timing of my runs and opening up space for myself so people know when to play me the ball.

PSP: Is there any player you’ve modeled yourself after as you’ve developed?

DC: I wouldn’t say there’s a specific player, but I do watch a lot of soccer and I do try to watch good players and players that play my position, watch what they do.

As a little kid, and I’ve said this in the past as well, I looked up to the Brazilian Ronaldo. There’s a lot of guys that play now that mimic and try to do the same stuff that he did. You see Cristiano Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic trying to do all these tricks, and I think all that came from the Brazilian Ronaldo. I really liked him growing up, and I’ve tried to do some of his tricks as well.

PSP: When you were scoring goals last year, I’m sure defenses started to focus on you more and try new things to slow you down. What sort of things did they do that bothered you more than others? What did they do that slowed you down and made you think, “At the next level, I need to be ready for this sort of thing”?

DC: There were times when I was double-teamed and we would come into the attacking third and there’d be a guy on me and then two more guys, another guy paying attention, watching where I go. That helped me in a way because every game I had to try a new way, how to find myself in front of goal, find a goal or find a goal for someone else.

I think that having those double teams, having those players marking me was a good thing for me. I think it will help me out in the future as well. At the professional level everything is really tight and you don’t have that much space anyway, so it just prepared me to think quicker and make better decisions.

PSP: Do you consider yourself an emotional player on the field? 

DC: It depends on the situation. I think that I’m much different when I step on the field than what I am off the field. I think that I’m really passionate and I think that shows sometimes. But sometimes I’m mellow and it doesn’t show. That’s something you’ll have to look out for.

PSP: Has anyone really gotten under your skin during a game? 

DC: I think I’m mentally strong enough to deal with that. When guys start talking, I just laugh it off.

PSP: Have you been to Philly before, or is this your first time exploring the city? 

DC: The first time I was in Philly was for the draft. So this is my second time, technically. I was here for two days for the draft, so I got to see a little of the city. Hopefully I have some time during preseason where we have a day off or two and I can explore a little more.

PSP: Great, thanks for taking the time to talk and good luck in preseason. 

DC: Thanks.


  1. I hope these coaches are not too British in their approach to young players. This guy could be special if he is treated very carefully with very low expectations built in to his development. Maybe a few minutes here and there for maybe the first 1/3 of the season. Too many USA coaches use the Brit model, which devours young players.

  2. Some really peculiar questions were asked.He should have told the interviewer where to go, but maybe he was just polite.

    • A little bit, but its refreshing. Adam played the game… he’s going to ask more questions that a player would ask another player…..just like if they were hanging out. As a player, I would never admit in print what slows me down………..Adam should have probably figured that one. It’s one thing to talk about it with each other on the training pitch….another to the media! Adam’s done a pretty good job so far….IMHO. Keep up the good work! I like how he asked Bird what it was like to play with Madison at the end of his interview there too, figuring that they maybe (hopefully!) team mates next year. I also like that he has the footy sense to ask if someone states they play 4-5-1……… they play the hybrid 4-5-1/4-3-3 or straight up, park the bus 4-5-1. Big difference! And yes, a pub that doesn’t open for the 7 am Championship match on BeIn to get us “warmed up” for the 8am Prem match………is not a footy bar! I have kids now…… I miss those places!

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