When Dejan Jakovic tries to recollect his most vivid soccer memory, he takes a long pause and contemplates the question for a while. Ethnically Serbian, the D.C. United central defender and his family moved to Toronto, Canada at a young age after fleeing from the war-torn former Yugoslavia. The many twists and turns his path in life has taken – from Croatia, to Ontario, to Alabama for college, to Serbia and finally here in the nation’s capital – provide for a plethora of options. After some ruminating, the 27-year-old chuckles after sharing the story.
“Well, my dad played for Karlovac, which is in Croatia and I remember him taking me when I was a little kid into the locker room,” said Jakovic. “One memory I have was he went after training and jumped into the showers and I got scared and I was alone, so I took my clothes off, too, and hopped in with him.”
Young Jakovic, with the influence of and inspiration from his father, was surrounded by soccer from the start. Everyone he knew in his youth aspired to play for Red Star Belgrade – a side in which he would feature for before inking a deal with D.C. United – and his dad was instrumental in keeping Jakovic motivated. However, the defender says that he did not fully grasp the idea of making soccer his career until a big growth spurt occurred late in his teenage years.
“It’s funny because I kind of hit puberty late,” said Jakovic. “Everyone was a lot bigger than me and then all of a sudden, I remember in high school, I just grew four inches. Everyone was like, ‘What the hell? What happened to you?’ And once that happened, I was kind of the same size as everyone else and I sort of thought to myself, ‘You know what? I can do this if I just continue to work hard and train.’”
After high school, Jakovic came to the United States to play for the University of Alabama – Birmingham, where he picked up NSCAA All-Region First Team honors in two of his three seasons (2005-07) with the Blazers. There, under the mentorship of Head Coach Mike Getman, Jakovic excelled and, with the help of Getman, started getting looks from the Canada Men’s National Team.
“[Mike] helped me a lot – he was always there for me and supported me,” said Jakovic. “I feel like he had a lot to do with me even getting called in with Canada because there were a few guys on our team who were getting call-ups for the U-23s. I feel like Getman kind of told the coach, ‘Well, Dejan Jakovic is on our team, too. He’s a great player and you should probably take a look.’ And then I got invited into January camp where I just played really well and since then, I’ve been getting called in every single time.”
Most recently for Canada, Jakovic traveled to Doha, Qatar – his first-ever trek to the Middle East – for a pair of friendlies against Japan and Belarus on March 22 and March 25. Despite the squad dropping both results, Jakovic returned with an appreciation of the country’s architecture (“very unique” with much “texture and design to them”) and people (“very friendly”). The chosen site of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar’s bid included air-conditioned stadiums to combat its blazing hot summers, and Jakovic heard inklings from locals about other innovative features that may be rolled out.
“I’ve heard some crazy ideas that [Qatar] have for the summertime in the World Cup – like they’re going to make fake clouds and put them over the stadium to cover up the sun and stuff, so I don’t know what they’re up to,” said Jakovic.
Signing with D.C. United on February 27, 2009 from Red Star, Jakovic has established himself as a valuable asset and is almost the Black-and-Red’s longest-tenured player. That honor, instead, goes to roommate Chris Pontius, who edges the Canadian international out by 43 days. In their fifth season with United, the pair is practically inseparable at RFK and around the District. During downtime, often with teammates Brandon McDonald and Ethan White in tow, the group likes to discover new restaurants together and unwind by playing a competitive game of Jenga.
“We’ve gotten really good – we have, like, 35 stacks going,” said Jakovic, a hint of playful pride in his voice.
Not one to pass up an opportunity to rib his roommate, Jakovic added: “I’d have to say Chris [Pontius] is the worst [out of all of us] at Jenga. You gotta have a touch with your fingers, soft, and he’s just shoving his fingers in there and knocking it down. Not delicate, so that’s why his touch on the field is soft, I guess,” he said, laughing.
Luckily for both Pontius and Jakovic, their on-field abilities exceed their Jenga skills. After standout 2012 campaigns, the club extended each of their contracts with the aim of keeping the Arlington inhabitants with the Black-and-Red for the long haul.
“The first couple years, I wouldn’t say I was close with Chris [Pontius] – we didn’t live together,” said Jakovic. “But now that we’ve been living together, he’s like my brother and he’s like a family member… Hopefully, we can get another run at playoffs and maybe win an MLS Cup.”