Stephen Hart, Head Coach and General Manager of the HFX Wanderers took notice of Karajovanovic’s ability during the 2021 CPL-U SPORTS Draft that took place in January.
“Stefan was someone we felt had qualities that were different to our current strikers,” explains Wanderers Head Coach Stephen Hart. “He is mobile and adds a dimension of being direct with his dribbling – which I like. His two-footedness should cause problems in the penalty area for opposition.”
Stefan Karajovanovic, originally from Gatineau, QC, is a fourth-year Criminology and Criminal Justice student at Carleton University. Karajovanovic, 21, has been a prolific U SPORTS striker throughout his Carleton Ravens career.
The 21-year-old forward from Gatineau, Que. scored 35 goals in 37 games with Ottawa’s Carleton Ravens in a three-year span shortened in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. The dynamic forward has also featured for PLSQ champions AS Blainville – including in the Canadian Championship.
Karajovanovic was previously drafted by York United (then York9 FC) in 2019 only to be plucked 7th overall in this past Janurary’s selection.
He’s a dynamic in-the-box type of striker, very similar to Akeem Garcia in his qualities, likes to get in behind, makes good runs and movement and he’s two-footed, so he gives us a little bit of extra depth up top,” Wanderers coach Stephen Hart said. “He had been in training with us all along and he kind of got stuck here, so he decided to stick it out and we’re happy to announce he has earned a contract.”
Karajovanovic is the sixth CPL-U SPORTS Draft pick signed by the Wanderers to either a full-time or developmental contract, joining current standouts Christian Oxner, Peter Schaale, Cory Bent, and Jake Ruby as draftees who have made an impact in Halifax.
Stefan spoke with Wanderers Brand Manager Dylan Lawrence to share what this contract means to him, how he’s managed lockdown in Halifax and shares a couple predictions for the 2021 Euros.
Dylan Lawrence: Congratulations on your contract. Can you tell us what this means for you and the start of your professional career?
SK: It means a lot to me. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid. Since the age of 4 I’ve been playing organized football. So when it became official I was over the moon. It shows my time at semi-pro and my time at Carleton University, the hard work paid off and I’m just happy I can now go on and try to help out this team as much as I can.
DL: Not only did you earn your first contract, but also during some testing times. How does the pandemic play into this and how much it means to you?
SK: The last year with the pandemic – there’s been ups and downs – this year we weren’t sure there would be a season but I would still hustle with some guys in Ottawa while I was there. We would work out and train as much as we could so I could be in the shape I wanted to be in when I got to Halifax. I knew a bunch of the guys and immediately got back into a competitive environment and yeah, from there it’s now about putting in the work and constantly looking to raise my level, the team’s level and help out where I can.
DL: What things did you do to keep in shape – both physically and mentally?
SK: During the lockdown I did things that were scheduled with the team through zoom sessions – besides those a bunch of little things like stretching was important to make sure when we return to the field that we minimize the risk of injury. Chatting with others often that are in a similar situation to me was also helpful. We would push each other and make sure we’re in a good state of mind so when we have the chance to get back on the pitch you can get right back to where you left off.
DL: Now that you’re back in training, how has it been merging into the team environment?
SK: Well first of all, I really enjoy the team dynamic. Our training sessions are very much ‘train as you play’. High intensity, high quality training sessions and the quality of the players on this team – having someone like Akeem Garcia as a striker to give you advice. I’ve been taking pieces of advice from all of the players here and I think that’s key to bringing your level up.
DL: Do you have a player at the highest level that you try to emulate in your game?
SK: One for me would be Kareem Benzema – as a striker I really like the way his movement goes. He’s not necessarily the quickest but he’s just able to be in the right place, at the right time, make good decisions and he’s a lethal finisher. Harry Kane is another one – he has the awareness of a midfielder – finished with the most assists in the Premier League and scored the most goals as well. Guys like them are able to read the level of the group and do what they can to help their team and that’s why I’d choose those 2.
DL: Any predictions for who will take it at the Euros this year?
SK: Well I’m hoping that France takes it – Serbia isn’t in the Euros this year and I’m a big fan of them. But I hope France can take it, from the World Cup and now the Euros, I hope they take it but then again there’s some good teams as well. Portugal has a good squad, Italy has a pretty good squad and not a bad path to the final so we’ll see. It’s going to be interesting and it’s the best time of the year to be honest – the Euros and the World Cup is something every player dreams of playing in and I hope it’s something that one day can happen for me.