It’s been a globetrotting year for former North Shore United player Luka Prpa, culminating in March with a two-week training stint at Swansea City FC in Wales.
NSU’s relationship with the English Premier League club was the springboard for the 16-year-old’s overseas opportunity, dating back to a spring break trip in 2012 by the NSU U14 boys. Prpa and the team gave a strong showing against Swansea’s U14s, losing a match 5-3 but proving that the American club played football worthy of the partnership.
“My visit with NSU a few years ago had a big part to do with this training opportunity,” Prpa said in an email. “The coaches at the time from Swansea said they would like to see me come back another time if possible. So we remained in contact through (NSU Director of Coaching) Joe Hammes. Then during Joe's visit to Swansea last year, he shared with us that there might be an opportunity to go and train with Swansea again.”
Meanwhile, Prpa ascended the domestic soccer ladder. In 2014 the midfielder switched club affiliation to Chicago Magic PSG USSDA to get more opportunities on a national scale. Then last August he was chosen for the U.S. U-17 Residency Program and moved to Bradenton, FL to train with about two dozen other age-group players. Picked again for the spring semester, Prpa trained in Honduras as one of 24 players vying for a spot on the U.S. U-17 roster for the CONCACAF Championships. But when he didn’t make the final cut of 20, the Swansea opportunity became available.
While in Wales, Prpa trained with the U18s almost every day, and also got into some workouts with the U16s.
“I was not allowed to play in any U18 Premier League games due to International clearance rules and because I was not a registered player with their club or U18 Premier League,” he said. “However, I did get to play in a U16 match against Nottingham Forest the day before I left.”
Prpa also enjoyed a brush with fame when the 18s were called upon to test the first team by emulating Aston Villa on set pieces in the days leading to an EPL match. Prpa found himself momentarily marking Bafetimbi Gomis, the powerful French striker with eight goals in all competitions for the Swans this year. On the other end, he took some free kicks and buzzed one just over Lukasz Fabianski’s crossbar.
The visit also included a brief audience with Manager Garry Monk and a photo with midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, along with the opportunity to see the Swans take on Liverpool at Liberty Stadium. Prpa was grateful to Huw Cooze of the Swansea Supporters Trust and everyone at the club for their support.
But this clearly wasn’t a sightseeing trip. Prpa said he received positive feedback from coaches who guided his training.
“The coaching staff said that they liked what they saw from me and mentioned that I didn’t look out of place,” Prpa said. “The coaches said that they wished that they were able to see me in some games with the U18s, but the club’s busy schedule of League and Welsh cup games and other clubs being unavailable for friendlies didn’t allow for that. Swansea would like to keep in touch and hopefully I am able to go over again should my schedule allow for it.”
For whatever decision he makes in the next two years, Prpa has a good role model in his cousin, Andrija Novakovich of Reading FC. Novakovich has been a standout for the U18s and also has impressed with the U21s, after declining a scholarship offer from Marquette University and joining the English professional side.
“His advice to me is not to rush into any decisions,” Prpa said. “I am only a junior in high school and have plenty of time to learn and develop. I am looking to play and learn as much as I can so that it makes me an all-around better soccer player.”