BY ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, CALIF — Eugene Starikov's journey has been a winding road that is not typical among American soccer players. A search for soccer success that has taken him from the heat of Central Florida to the chill of Siberia and finally to the sunny fields of Carson, California.
Starikov was called into camp by Bob Bradley ahead of the January 22nd match with Chile after an impressive showing with Russian Premier League club, Tom Tomsk a club based in Siberia. On loan from Zenit St. Petersburg for half of the 2010 season, Starikov made only a scant four appearances until scoring a goal on October 23rd.
After scoring, he rattled off five straight starts to close the Russian season. Despite only arriving on with the team last Thursday, Starikov is eager to make an impact in his new surroundings.
"Everyone here are top level players so training is very intense, but it's going good so far," said Starikov. "They're very cool guys who are really nice and they've done well welcoming me into the team."
Born in Odessa, in the former Soviet Union, which is now part of Ukraine, Starikov moved to the United States at a young age — making stops in Utah, Southern California and later Florida — and began to play soccer thanks to his father Lou, a former professional in the Soviet Union with Ukrainian club, FC Chornomorets Odessa. Starikov briefly attended Stetson University in Florida before catching the eye of Russia's top club, Zenit St. Petersburg in 2008. Starikov joined Tomsk after two years in the prestigious Zenit academy, which has been made famous for developing top talent like Arsenal midfielder Andrei Arshavin.
While with Tomsk, diligently worked until he became a regular starter for the Siberian club, finishing the season with nine appearances. The success of Starikov — known as "Yevgeni" in the Russian media – at Tomsk was not lost on Bradley, who kept heavy tabs on the forward during the season. Through online videos and conversations with his former college coach at Stetson, Bradley saw enough in Starikov to warrant a call-up to the squad. With Starikov's in the States clearing up visa issues before deciding his club future, Bradley felt it was the perfect time to call him up.
"He's a young guy with some quickness who is technically decent and for a little guy, he's very good in the air, so there are some good starting points," said Bradley. "He's starting to make some inroads and it's not clear if he'll stay with that club, but January is good window for us to look a guy like that closely and see where it all fits."
Although, there had been thoughts that Starikov could have joined Russia or Ukraine, according to Starikov, he holds only American citizenship. Starikov joins a camp forward pool full of MLS talent like Chivas USA's Justin Braun and San Jose Earthquakes' Chris Wondolowski. With many players unfamiliar with one another, it may be the most appropriate time to call up a forward who is new to the national team set-up.
With less than a week in Bradley's setup, Starikov has impressed playing in a variety of positions from behind the forwards to up top during training sessions. A tenacious player, who appears good in the air despite standing at 5-foot-8. Although he hasn't spent a great deal of time with the team, Starikov has a positive review for Bob Bradley's coaching style and believes that he can thrive in his systemsystem.
"It's similar [to Russia] and I like that Coach Bradley is trying to play football, he's not playing long ball every time and wants to get forward, as an attacking player it's good for me," said Starikov. "He's always telling us to look forward and to attack. It's nice."
Starikov will only have two weeks to mesh with the national team as the U.S. takes on Chile on Janaury 22nd. After the friendly, Starikov will return to Russia to prepare for the start of the RRL season, which begins on March 12th. Despite his club situation currently being in flux, Starikov's focus is solely on the U.S. national team and becoming a fixture in Bradley's squad.
"I would just like to flow into the team and feel like I'm part of the group," said Starikov. I want to feel like the team needs me then we can go out and play comfortably as a team when we face Chile."