DAVID SMITH - Monday, July 6, 2009
Former Bolton Wanderers attacker Johann Smith has traded the shores of Lake Ontario for the warm beaches of the Adriatic, having signed with Croatian first division team NK Rijeka.
"I signed with the team on a two year contract," Smith told YA. "They saw my tapes and became interested a couple months ago."
"I was recommended to the team by one of my old coaches in Connecticut, Tom D'agostino," he continues.
The former U-20 national team standout had last played with MLS outfit Toronto FC during parts of the 2008 and '09 seasons, however was released in mid-June after his spell failed to yield a solid spot with the team.
While often falling under the radar of most fans of the European game, Smith feels the Croatian league still represents a great opportunity to a young player such as himself, both in terms of long-term mobility as well as the level of competition he'll face on a day-to-day basis.
"The league is good, a stepping stone league you can say," he suggests. "A lot of good players are here in Croatia, and many have been bought by bigger teams and have flourished in the big four leagues."
The move to Rijeka, one of the more successful teams in Croatia in recent years, also provides Smith with the possibility to showcase his talents in European competition.
"The team finished third in the league this last season so now we will be participating in the Europa League this season."
Rijeka's European campaign gets underway on July 16, when they face off with Luxembourg runners-up Differdange in the first leg of their home-and-home series in the competition's second qualifying round, while their domestic season begins shortly thereafter, with the first round of games on July 25.
Already having trained with the team for several weeks, the former Bolton player has a good impression of the team and their prospects for the fast approaching season.
"Training is going really well so are the pre-season friendlies," he asserts. "We have played about four games so far, so its good preparation for the upcoming season."
Still clocking in at a young 22 years despite his recent career travels, Smith is relishing his upcoming time in Croatia as a opportune chance to continue his development as a player and feels confident that he has finally landed in the right spot to accomplish his long- and short-term ambitions.
"First and foremost I want to improve every single day," he states. "I do set high standards for myself so I want to be one of the best on the field every game."
"I am learning every day in a new and great footballing environment."