Indiana Vassilev signs 2-year deal to be part of City SC’s first crusade

First things first, yes, Indiana Vassilev, the attacking midfielder whose two-year deal with St. Louis City SC was announced on Tuesday, was named after Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels, his Bulgarian-born father’s film character being a Fan of, and not the state.

“I have no hat, no whip,” Vassilev said after team training on Tuesday. “I never wore it. We’ve seen most of the films more than three times each. Harrison Ford is getting a little bit older.”

Meanwhile, as Ford’s days as a daring archaeologist draw to a close, Vassilev is just getting started to embark on his first crusade with the City SC expansion. He’s only 21 (he’ll be 22 when the MLS season kicks off in February) but has gained a lot of experience in a very short space of time, notably through four games in the English Premier League.

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“He’s a 21-year-old with Premier League experience,” said City SC assistant coach John Hackworth, who coached Vassilev with the USA Under-17 team. “That’s not bad.”

He has played for the United States through three youth stages, winning an English fourth division league title with Cheltenham Town and playing two seasons in Major League Soccer with Miami on loan from the English club he signed with in 2018, Aston Villa. And a week into practice he’s the table tennis team champion, although he hasn’t gotten around to accepting a challenge to play against team sport director Lutz Pfannenstiel. But he has no qualms about hitting his boss.

“The contract is already signed,” he said, “so if I beat him, I’m safe.”

The City SC training camp opens

St. Louis City SC midfielder Indiana Vassilev conducts drills on Wednesday, January 11, 2023, during the first day of preseason training camp at the team’s training facility in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by Christian Gooden, [email protected] com

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Vassilev, as you can imagine, is a bit of a free spirit. That was the first thing Hackworth noticed about him when he saw him eating lunch in the cafeteria at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where 13-year-old Vassilev went to school and where the US youth program was based.

“You can tell he has this personality that he puts some energy into that is a little bit contagious,” Hackworth said.

That was clear in the first days of training for City SC, where you could hear Vassilev the only player celebrating victories during competitive practice, both by himself and others.

“He’s a very energetic, funny guy,” said City SC’s Akil Watts, who played with Vassilev in the Under-17 team. “A really good guy.”

City SC will want that, along with a really good footballer. In a Bundesliga-heavy team, Vassilev is the only player with Premiership experience and although he has only played 47 minutes in Premier League games, that time plus training with Villa has made an impression.

The City SC training camp opens

St. Louis City SC midfielder Indiana Vassilev evades practice from midfielder Rasmus Alm on Wednesday, January 11, 2023, the first day of preseason training camp at the team’s training facility in downtown St. Louis, MO. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden

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“It was a humbling experience,” he said, “because these players are at a very, very high level. And it’s obviously where most players want to be, the Premier League. So it was very good to be able to gain this experience. But it was time for a new challenge. That’s why I’m happy to come here.”

The move also allows him to settle down. With Villa he was loaned out every season so he could get the playing time he couldn’t get with Villa. Instead of coming to St. Louis on another loan, City SC, who called for Vassilev in the extension draft, were able to work out a transfer and a two-year deal with two years of option.

“It feels good to have stability,” said Vassilev. “It feels good to be in a city that is historically so important to US soccer.”

“He brings a lot of skill to midfield,” said City SC coach Bradley Carnell. “People have been asking us a lot about our depth of midfield and I think once again he’s a guy who can… wear a lot of hats in a team. I’m just trying to pocket him and find his best position that suits us, his quality and his weapons. We are happy that he is finally done and now it can release a lot of tension for him because he can keep training and growing within the group.”

There is still a lot of Bulgarian in Vassilev. Although he was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, the first language he learned was Bulgarian. He still speaks it and tries to visit Bulgaria with his parents every year or two. Football runs deep in his family. His father came to America from Bulgaria to play NAIA football at the University of Mobile in Alabama and Indiana, or Indy as they call him within the team, says his grandfather was even better than his father in Bulgaria.

“Make sure he doesn’t hear that,” he said.

Camp update for day 6

After a break on Monday, the team had 22 healthy fielders on Tuesday, including midfielder Rasmus Alm, who left the team’s scrimmage early Sunday. A review of video from scrimmage Sunday showed Hackworth’s team defeated fellow assistant coach John Miglarese’s team. While Miglarese’s team scored more goals, teams also got points for other things on the field.

“Team Gray or Team Hack had a few more connected passes in the opposition half,” Carnell said, “which led to a win that day.”

The scrimmage also gave Carnell and his staff real-world examples to work on with the team.

“It was about principles,” Carnell said, “and how we wanted to play and then just try and change the method or mode a little bit this week, with different messages, a different notch in the philosophy of what we’re trying to expect today . Small pieces of the puzzle.”

Take a look at what St. Louis City SC fans can expect from the new CityPark football stadium.