Since the Crew 2022 season ended in early October, Miloš Degenek has been busy.
While his teammates stayed in Columbus until late October to train, the center was granted an early release from team duties to return to Serbia, his offseason home, for a short break with his family before joining the Australian team for the World Cup in Qatar.
Degenek was also part of Australia’s World Cup squad in 2018, but was an unused substitute. In Qatar, he played just five minutes in Australia’s opening defeat to France and 15 minutes in a win over Tunisia before earning his first start of the tournament in the group stage final against Denmark. He played the full 90 minutes as Australia won and advanced to the knockout round for only the second time in their history.
“It was miraculous,” Degenek said. “I think we’ve done really well. We’ve exceeded what everyone thought. I think people in Australia and football fans in general thought we were going there, we’re just going to participate and then go home after three games. I . I think we proved a lot of people wrong.”
The Socceroos’ run ended against eventual champions Argentina in the round of 16, but for Degenek, going down to Lionel Messi’s Argentina is as tolerable as defeat can be.
“If I had to be anyone, and if I had to choose someone, I would choose them, for Messi,” said Degenek. “I really wanted him to win. Not just me, I think everybody wanted him to win. … I had the privilege of playing against him. I think that’s something special, when you’re standing next to somebody like that and you look what does he do on a football field and you wonder how he does it.”
Degenek’s role as the leader of the Crew grew steadily during his first season in MLS, culminating in him rallying the team to deliver a message after the comeback win against the Red Bulls, and at the World Cup stepped up in his leadership responsibilities. .
As one of eight Socceroos players who were also in the squad in 2018, Degenek felt a responsibility to help push the team forward and be a trusted leader. As he prepares for the 2023 season with the Crew, he will take that experience and knowledge with him.
“I can bring that leadership and just that calm, collected voice,” Degenek said. “… That’s what I can bring and that’s what was born in me during this World Cup. That’s what I took home and that’s what I bring here. Just a little bit of a different mindset in my own mind , this hunger and this desire to do much more”.
Aged 28 and now a father of two — Degenek’s wife Aleksandra gave birth to the couple’s second child, a son, earlier this week, adding another element to their already busy winter —, Degenek is one of the Crew’s biggest players. and has experience playing against some of the best competition in the world. Fresh off his World Cup performance, he hopes to combine his strong play with his leadership to make a big impact for the Crew this season.
“I knew I was always kind of a leader, a person who was never ashamed to go first and never shy to be first in the line of battle,” Degenek said. “But I think that brought it out a lot more… I’m not here to say I can teach players how to play football. That’s not my job.
“But I can definitely help the players, help the younger guys and help those who are here in terms of if they ever need someone to talk to and just someone you tap on the shoulder and give them a hug and say you’re there we are. this together.”