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Colorado Rush Soccer Club

News Detail


Feb, 2020


Tony Iljkic, a 2006 Boys Academy player at Colorado Rush, has an incredible opportunity coming his way this April. He, along with a select handful of other talented players from the U.S. and Canada will participate in a Football Tournament in Croatia hosted by the Croation Football Federation (HNS). A team comprised of elite players in the U.S. and Canada have been selected to play in the tournament by HNS scouts. One important factor that unifies these players is their Croatian heritage. Additional teams have been created of players in European countries whose families have also migrated from Croatia, but are also of Croatian descent and, of course, strong footballers too. 

Tony is one of the players the HNS invited to be a part of this fantastic opportunity to visit a country that holds strong meaning for his family. At the same time, this opportunity gives him first hand access to experiencing a country and culture that loves the very sport Tony has grown to love too.

Just a year ago, this might not have been where Tony imagined soccer would take him. Stroll back on memory lane a year ago and Tony wasn’t quite sure soccer was the right direction. Development of his skills seemed to have stalled. Soccer was becoming more frustrating than freeing. The mental side of the game coupled with growing pains became real obstacles in his path.

Yet, a year later, Tony’s story in the game is one of overcoming. He buckled down and put in the work to regain his confidence and composure. He listened to feedback. He gained momentum through the advice of his coaches. He felt his path in the game mattered and through the backing of coaches, teammates and family he overcame the thought of quitting with a refreshed mindset that allowed him to embrace his enjoyment in the game again, hard parts and all. He regained momentum and responded to adversity as any soccer player hopes they would when push comes to shove. He had to ask, as any player does in tough situations: Do I still love this game? Will I put in the work to get better? Am I willing to experience discomfort (of a new position, or a new challenge) to grow as a player? 

These are the questions the game brings to each and every player at some point or another; and Tony, just about a year ago, decided to step up to the occasion and see where his effort could take him. 

Like most stories of success and accomplishment, Tony’s story is a shared celebration. His coaches and parents were able to see his growth and support him. They were important pieces of the story, even while it was Tony’s choice to put in the work.

Last year, Elliot Prost, Colorado Rush’s Youth Boys Director, was Tony’s coach. He noticed Tony’s frustrations and cared to step in, learn more and do what he could to help Tony find success. Prost reflects on Tony’s development over the past year:

“Tony has shown a tremendous amount of commitment, resilience and development over the past 18 months. He has always exemplified the Rush Core Values and what it means to be a Rush Player. A year ago, when things were not really working out for him, he chose the hard way by staying committed and putting all his focus in the game and looking for any possible ways to get better and develop. A year later, he is invited to take part in an incredible opportunity; I truly wish him the best for the event. In June, Tony will also head to France with a Colorado Rush Boys Academy team to face professional academies and participate in tournaments. Tony's attitude, character and living out the Core Values on a daily basis has helped him become a top player. I could not be more proud of him and cannot wait to see how things unfold for this unique young man.”

This year, Jeff Carroll, Colorado Rush’s Director of Seniors, is Tony’s coach. He has seen a positive response from Tony in the adjustment that was made on the field from having him play forward to center back this season. Though an uncomfortable change for any player, Tony took to the idea and ended up excelling in the back. Jeff Carroll says, 

“Tony has done so much more than just excelled at his new position. He is committed to the team, he has not missed a training since coming into the Fall season, or heading into the Spring. He is a great leader for the boys, partially because of his size at this age, but mostly because of his character. His values match with the Rush Core Values and I can't wait to see where he goes from here." 

Colorado Rush is excited to see Tony take a hold of these opportunities this year and will continue supporting his development in the coming year. As a Rush player through and through, having begun at Rush in 2012 at six years old, the club is proud to see not only the player Tony is developing into on the field but the way he carries himself and upholds the Core Values off the field. 

This is what it means to be Rush. 

In April, Tony and his father will travel to Croatia so Tony can compete with his teammates from across the U.S. and Canada. Some of his extended family, still living in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, will be able to come out to cheer him on too. Scouts from the Croatian National Team will be attending as well, which will be a cool piece of the experience too. Tony’s biggest goal is to be selected for a Croatian Youth National Team, an opportunity Rush Soccer hopes he can accomplish too! 

Rush Soccer interviewed Tony about this unique soccer experience coming up this Spring. For any players looking to grow through their own obstacles with the tenacity and passion Tony brought up against his, we encourage you to read his responses:

RUSH: What do you enjoy most about playing soccer? 

Tony: Many things I enjoy about playing soccer include: being part of a team, challenging myself to reach my goals, the intensity and the speed of the game, being creative when playing, having the ball at my feet, developing and becoming a better player and going places (traveling). Soccer is a huge part of my life. I love to talk about it, I love to watch it, and I love to play it.


RUSH: Describe your experience as a Rush player from age 6 to now. What has stood out in what you've learned in how to be a Rush player on and off the field?

Tony: My experience as a Rush player over the years has been great. I started off by playing as a center forward and I loved to score goals. For a few years I played up with older boys which pushed me to play harder. I’ve had my ups and down, but my coaches showed me how to persevere through tough times. I have learned that you should push your limits to the max, on and off the field.


RUSH: Describe how you felt when you heard about this opportunity to play in the Foundation Tournament in Croatia in April. Did it spark any new goals you have for yourself as a player?

Tony: When I first found out that I had an opportunity to go to this tournament, I was super excited because I think it will be a great experience. The main goal is to be part of the Croatian Youth National team.


RUSH: We heard you considered taking a break from or quitting soccer about a year ago. Describe what was going through your head in that decision, as well as what helped you change your mind and keep the "game alive" in your life.

Tony: At the time, I didn’t enjoy soccer as much because I was going through a growth spurt. I wasn’t able to move like I wanted to and I wasn’t as fast. I was very frustrated with the situation and was thinking about quitting soccer. A meeting with Coach Elliot totally changed my mind. He helped me gain my confidence back and he believed that I can get back on track. Also, last fall I started a new position as a center back and knowing that Coach Jeff believes that I can contribute and get better means a lot to me.


RUSH: What advice would you share with a player going through the same predicament as you about considering an end to soccer. What encouragement can you give them based on your own perseverance and desire to stick with it and continue to grow as a player?

Tony: My biggest obstacle was myself and believing that I couldn’t do it. I would tell somebody that they should do what they do best and to keep believing in themselves. There is always someone that will be there for you through hard times.


RUSH: What are you most looking forward to in your visit to Croatia? 

Tony: I am looking forward to experiencing a different style of play, meeting my coaches and my new teammates. The culture and the food are already a big part of my life. It will be great to see my family coming to watch me play the game that I love.


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