Living the Dream: Stefan Karajovanovic Makes the Jump

Wanderers first-round pick Stefan Karajovanovic may be new to professional football, but he’s no stranger to the Canadian Premier League.

After training with two other CPL teams, the prolific scorer from Gatineau, QC signed with the HFX Wanderers in June after the team selected him 7th overall in the 2021 CPL-U SPORTS Draft.

“It is another level compared to U SPORTS. But you just put your head down, just grind it out and you’ll get used to the level,” says Stefan Karajovanovic from Winnipeg, where he’s featured in every match of The Kickoff.

Before the Island Games last season, Karajovanovic trained with Atlético Ottawa and got a sense of what it would take to crack a CPL roster. The striker already was popular in Ottawa after scoring 35 goals in 37 matches over three seasons for the Carleton Ravens while playing university football across the river from his hometown of Gatineau.

“It’s obviously different when you get in the game. The play is very fast. You don’t have a lot of time to make decisions. You just have to be sharp,” the 22-year-old says of those early adjustments to the league.

June 26, 2021. Pacific FC vs. HFX Wanderers. Pre-Game. First-Half. Stefan Karajovanovic plays the ball. (Photo: CPL/Robert Reyes/William Ludwick)
June 26, 2021. Pacific FC vs. HFX Wanderers. Pre-Game. First-Half. Stefan Karajovanovic plays the ball. (Photo: CPL/Robert Reyes/William Ludwick)

The Wanderers are the second team to draft Karajovanovic after York United selected the striker the season before. The Ontario team didn’t have room for the young player on their roster and after five days of training with the club, it was back to square one.

“When I got the chance with Halifax, I just had that extra motivation. I just switched into a completely different mentality,” says Karajovanovic. “I got to Halifax trying to prove myself and not give them a reason to not sign me. I did that and now I’m hoping to help the team out as much as I can in the league.”

When the CPL-U SPORTS pick made it to the team, he was already familiar with many of his new teammates. He knew Peter Schaale and Cory Bent from playing against Cape Breton University. Similarly, he knew Omar Kreim and other teammates dating all the way back through his youth career.

“I just knew a bunch of those guys that were from Quebec and that made the jump. I did ask them how it is,”  Karajovanovic says, noting they told him to grind it out and earn a spot in the league.

Like those players he knew from his university career, Karajovanovic is just the latest player to make the jump from U SPORTS and make an instant impact in the starting XI for the Wanderers. “It was nice to know people before I came here and it was nice to see their own path and the way they were incorporated into the league. I took positives from each one.”

Stefan Karajovanovic playing for his Alma Mater, Carleton University. (Carleton Ravens)
Stefan Karajovanovic playing for his Alma Mater, Carleton University. (Carleton Ravens)

Following his childhood dreams 

The dream of playing professionally started when Karajovanovic was a boy. He comes from a family that loves football. His mom, dad, and aunt were big football fans back in Serbia and his grandfather played at a high level there as well.

“So it’s been in the family for generations, literally. When I started walking, I started walking and kicking a ball at the same time,” says Karajovanovic, adding one of his dreams as a kid was to play for his country as well.

“When I got the chance to sign a professional contract, I was really ecstatic. Just fulfilling the dream most kids have of playing professionally? It’s pretty awesome.”

Karajovanovic’s professional career is still young, so naturally he’s focused on doing all he can to help the Wanderers this season. He’s still seeking that first goal, but he’s shown flashes of brilliance and it’s just a matter of time before he finds the back of the net. Still, he has ambitions for taking his career even further down the road.

“I am 22 and I’d like to maybe either go abroad in Europe or go into the next step, MLS or something like that,” says the promising young striker.

“For now I’m focused on having a good CPL season with the guys. We want to win it all because we have a very talented group. That’s the main focus for me this season.”

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