Hudson River Blue spoke with New York City FC right-back Mitja Ilenič at the club’s training facility in Rockland County, NY. The defender has made seven starts since joining NYCFC from NK Domzale in the Slovenian PrivLiga in the offseason. He likely would have made more starts, but the 18-year-old missed two games when he was called up to the Slovenian national youth team in March.
This interview was edited for clarity.
Hudson River Blue: You have two assists so far this season. Have you played this much of a role in the attack in the past?
Mitja Ilenič: When I was U-17 I started to be a right back. Before I was a winger, so this I think is my natural role — to go in front, you know, to try to make assists. Last season I scored three goals. It was not assists.
I’m just happy if I can help the team with assists or goals.
HRB: You are comfortable being a part of the attack.
MI: Yes, I want to be a part of the attack.
HRB: Is that what you do for the Slovenian national youth team?
MI: Now with U-19 we play 3-5-2, so I was wingback. For me, I love this.
HRB: What is different about playing in MLS than the Slovenian PrivLiga.
MI: Oof. I think everything is different. Football is so much faster, stronger duels, individual players are better. I think everything is better. Attendance in stadiums – I am not used to it. This is something new for me.
A lot of differences. Now I’ve gotten used to it, but in the beginning, it was a little harder.
HRB: What about the travel? In Europe, you get around by train or bus, but here there’s a flight maybe a hotel. It’s more involved.
MI: To be honest it’s, like, the biggest change. My farthest away game in Slovenia was two hours in the bus. It was nothing. Here, we go to Toronto.
It’s a lot of flights, here, there, back, hotels, buses. But I’m getting used to it. It’s something new for me, a new experience for sure.
HRB: It’s a big move: A new country, a new culture, and you’re 18. Are you here with your family?
MI: No, I’m here alone.
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HRB: What has surprised you about living in New York?
MI: Nothing, because I expected everything. People, you see everywhere people. I’m not used to it because I come from a small village in Slovenia and I think in the whole village and there are 300 people. Here you go to Times Square and there are probably a million.
I expected a lot of it because every time I see a movie, I see New York. And now to be here is like a dream, you know? It’s amazing so far.
HRB: What do you do for fun?
MI: I’ve been here for three or four months, and I checked a little bit, like, Times Square, Wall Street, these things. Every time I go to the city it’s like, whoa. I’m looking forward to explore even more.
I need to see the Statue of Liberty, and the NBA. I definitely need to see that.