BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, November 15, 2010
With only two rounds left in the Russian Premier League season, American forward Eugene Starikov is finishing strong with FK Tom Tomsk where he has broken into the team's starting lineup.
Starikov, who turns 22 this week, began the year struggling to earn playing time but in October, his fortunes changed as head coach Valeri Nepomniachi began slotting the American into the starting lineup.
"I've started to get some good playing time these last few matches which is what every [soccer player] wants, to play." Starikov told YA from Russia. "I feel confident and comfortable in the team."
"Valeri Nepomniachi has been telling me the whole year that my chance will come," he continued. "It's very important to be ready when it does. I have to keep working hard to continue playing and continue gaining experience."
Starkov, who is the first known American to ever play in the Russian Premier League, earned his first start of the season on October 23rd when Tomsk traveled to take on fifth place Spartak Nalchik.
In the 55th minute of that game, Starikov scored his first professional goal when he was able to head home a long free kick into the lower right corner.
Tomsk were not able to hold the lead and eventually they lost on a 90th minute goal, but it was an important moment for Starikov in his young career.
"It was a nice ball into the box," Starikov recalled. "I've always been told to go up after the ball and that's what I did. Got a head on it and saw it go into the back of the net! It's my job to score goals but of course I was excited and happy. We took the lead playing away in Nalchik but unfortunately we couldn't hold on to it. It was nice to score but not the best feeling because we didn't win the match."
Tomsk currently sits in tenth place in the 16 team Russian Premier League where they have 31 points through 28 games. They are, however, only five points clear of 15th place which is the league's relegation zone.
Starikov's goal is to earn as much playing time as possible the last two games and ensure Tomsk's status in the middle of the standings this season.
"I want to continue playing as much as possible," Starikov discussed. "It's a very crucial time for our team, we need a few more points to feel comfortable in the standings. When I'm on the [field] I will do everything I can to help my team, and hopefully I will be able to finish all of my chances."
Following the season, Starikov's future is uncertain. He is currently at Tomsk on a loan from first place Zenit St. Petersburg. Shortly after the season, he is looking forward to resolving where he will play next year.
"It's a serious question I will have to discuss with Zenit," Starikov said frankly. "We will figure it all out after the season."
Starikov, however, was quick to add that he has seen himself grow as a player this season at Tomsk and he is now confident after earning playing time with the first team that he can improve even more.
"I have gained a lot of experience this year just playing in the first team of Tomsk," Starikov assessed. "There is a big difference between the reserves and the first team. I believe you can always get better, I feel confident the way I am playing but there is always room for improvement!"
Starikov has also adjusted to life in the remote city of Tomsk which is located in western Siberia. While the conditions are sometimes difficult, he most appreciates the quality of the soccer facilities.
"It's alright, the city is small and convenient but it's not like there are wild bears roaming the streets, and the sun does shine in Siberia," Starikov joked.
"But most importantly is the [soccer]," he then added in a more serious tone. "We have quality [fields] here and when it does snow we play on a turf field which is the only negative really because we play on a natural [field] for the games."
Starikov looks forward to finishing this season strong and returning next year to the Russian Premier League where he will hope to continue his success even though his club status is not set.
Starkiov's recent success there in Russia has given rise to questions about his international future. Starikov was born in the Ukraine but became an American citizen when he attended Stetson University and played for their soccer team before leaving to play at Zenit.
Starikov is eligible to play for either the United States, Ukraine, or Russia. He has yet to be asked by any of the countries and he will base his decision once he is called upon by any of the national teams.
"I believe every [player] has a dream to play for their country at some point of time in their career," Starikov said of his international ambitions. "For now I have to prove myself in Russia. It's something I will have to decide when the offer comes."
Tomsk will continue their season this Saturday when they visit Sibir Novosibirsk.