Nikola Popovic has a flag in his office that’s half Serbian and half Portuguese.
His wardrobe includes authentic national soccer team jerseys from both countries.
The head coach of Ottawa Fury FC certainly has World Cup fever, and he’s one of the luckiest soccer fans in the world given that he has two favourite nations to cheer for.
Serbia was where Popovic’s parents grew up and where he was born and lived until age four. Portugal was where he spent his youth and eventually got into coaching.
“Believe me, there is suffering in my house when the teams are playing,” Popovic said. “I have nephews born and raised in Portugal. I received all my education in football in Portugal. Then there’s Serbian blood in me.
“I have had that flag for a very long time. When I go to competitions, I bring the flag along. I cheer for both teams. I have many friends still in Serbia. Even some players I coached are playing. I am very proud they qualified for the World Cup.”
It stands to reason Popovic will be wearing his Portugal jersey when that team faces Spain on Friday. Two days later, he’ll just don the Serbia jersey for its match against Costa Rica. On it will go from there, hopefully into the Round of 16 or better.
On Wednesday and Saturday nights, though, you can bet Popovic will be wearing his best Fury FC colours, complete with a black shirt, black tie and black pants.
Off a bye week, Popovic’s United Soccer League club begins a stretch of five matches in a row away from TD Place stadium, kicking Wednesday in Cary, N.C., against North Carolina FC. They’ll move on to Atlanta on Thursday before playing United FC 2 on Saturday night.
These are two games from which Fury FC must come home with points. Popovic’s team currently sits 11th in the Eastern Conference with four wins and three draws for 15 points.
North Carolina and Atlanta are 14th and 15th, respectively. In their past four contests, North Carolina has just a win and three losses, while Atlanta has a draw and three losses.
“I feel this is a good moment for us,” Popovic said. “This is a big test for us to see if we can move higher.
“Sometimes, you always question whether it’s better to stop and have a break or keep playing. We were playing very well. But I think a little rest can help us at this point. After five or six months, we gave the players two or three days off to get their oxygen and their rest, and I think it’s been good for them.”
Naturally, Fury FC players are also getting into the spirit of the World Cup, the sports biggest spectacle.
“I think I’ve got about 20 bets going in the locker room … group winners, game results, everything,” veteran defender Colin Falvey said. “It’s either going to be a very good month (financially) … or a very poor one.”
Popovic is not short on predictions.
His optimism for Portugal is high, but expectations for Serbia are tempered.
“Portugal has a chance to win it,” he said. “But Serbia can be a big surprise there. Serbia, with the players they have, is a team that can be very dangerous.”