CARSON, Calif. – Baggio Hušidić knows a bit about new beginnings.
When the 26-year-old moved from Swedish club Hammarby to the LA Galaxy in the offseason, one could forgive the midfielder for being overwhelmed. After all, Husidic was moving from a club where he spent the last two years and had comfortably adapted to life in Sweden, but the switch to MLS was just another move for the tenacious midfielder.
Husidic showed how effortlessly the transition has been on the field last Saturday with a confident showing in LA’s 1-1 road draw with Real Salt Lake.
However to truly understand the midfielder’s versatility, you need to step away from the field.
Born Adis Hušidić in the town of northwest Bosnian town of Velika Kladuša in the former Yugoslavia, Husidic grew up in a tight-knit community surrounded by members of his extended family. It was there that his father Zarif gave him the moniker “Baggio” after the Italian soccer star Roberto Baggio, which has stuck with him throughout his adult life.
But at the age of six, life took a tragic turn.
In 1992, the Yugoslavia found itself embroiled in a vicious civil war that caused the Husidic family and thousands of others to reconsider their future in their native land.
Despite Velika Kladuša’s relative safety, Zarif and Mira Husidic uprooted Baggio and older brother Allen from their home to a refugee camp near the Bosnia-Croatia border. Although Baggio’s parents did their best to shield their sons from the horrors of the camp, some things were just impossible to ignore.
“We spent a year in the camp and it was a crazy and horrific experience,” said Husidic. “You saw so much that you shouldn’t see at any age let alone as a child, but luckily, I didn’t know too much about it. I wasn’t allowed to wander too far from the camps, which was something that my parents made sure of and together, we survived.”
A year after moving to the camp, the Husidics left their homeland for good, this time to Uetersen, Germany, a small suburb of Hamburg. With the civil war still raging, the German government offered a lifeline to those willing to leave the devastated nation. But what was designed to be an oasis for the family turned into a nightmare for the seven-year-old Baggio, as he dealt with daily bullying from those children who were resistant to the family’s presence in the German town.
Each day after school, Husidic was challenged by children who were eager to terrorize the immigrants from Bosnia and fights were a common occurrence.
But he did find his silver lining in Germany.
“No one judged me on the soccer field. They only judged how you play,” said Husidic who played for a small youth club in the German city. “Being that young, you want to belong to a group and playing with those teams made me feel a part of something. What I was to people off the field didn’t matter.
“It was peace for 60 minutes a day.”
Following three-and-a-half years in Germany, the Husidic family pounced on an opportunity to obtain American visas and soon found themselves moving half-way across the world to Chicago.
Simply put, government housing on the south side of Chicago was “paradise” for Husidic and his family. Less than a five minute drive from Lake Michigan, Husidic and his older brother would spend their time playing soccer tennis for hours.
Once the school year started, it was time for Husidic to adapt to the new country, a new language and another new community, the Latino-community of Franklin Park. With only his brother and his family to converse with in his native Bosnian, Baggio needed to learn English which he eventually picked up by playing uno with his English teacher.
Thanks to his father’s success in the construction business and the housing boom of the early 2000’s, his family’s rise in America was astronomical as they found themselves in the affluent Chicago suburb of Libertyville just a few years’ time. It was there where he first came into contact with the family of current Galaxy associate head coach Dave Sarachan and his son Ian, who would eventually become Baggio’s closest friend.
“I never liked him or his brother because they were good, but my first day at University of Illinois-Chicago, we started talking and the rest his history in that sense,” Ian Sarachan told LAGalaxy.com. “It’s funny how things come full circle.”
Added Ian’s father Dave, “He’s always competed from when he was a little kid to now. He’s always done whatever he can to make sure that the other team doesn’t score on him or get pass him,” said Galaxy Associate head coach Dave Sarachan. “I’ve always believed that people are products of their environment and you can go through many of the great players in the world from [Luis] Suarez to [Leo] Messi, they come from environments where they have to survive and that’s a mentality that is in Baggio’s nature.”
That competitive rivalry soon turned into a life-long friendship for Ian and Baggio once they began to play together at UIC.
“They just competed against one another, their rivalry wasn’t based on anything but soccer, but once they got to UIC, they got really know one another,” said Dave Sarachan. “There’s this old adage that you’d rather play with a guy than against him and once they realized they were on the same page, they quickly bonded.”
With Sarachan by his side, Husidic enjoyed an impressive three-year career at UIC and eventually earned a Generation adidas contract with MLS before being drafted by his hometown Chicago Fire in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. After a rocky rookie season, Husidic became a regular during the 2010, but saw his playing time diminish in his third and final season in Chicago. With just five goals and three assists in 22 appearances with the Fire, Husidic knew that it was time to leave yet again.
Once the Colorado Rapids acquired his MLS rights in a deal with the Fire, Husidic opted for a European switch, signing with Swedish club Hammarby.
“I realized what I needed as a player in terms of getting more games and experience. I always had a dream of experiencing Europe, said Husidic. “I started off well in Chicago, but I realized that things were changing and I made the move. I knew that I had to sacrifice and so I went to Europe. I took in the whole experience and I really appreciated the opportunity that I had there.”
Life in Sweden was ideal for Baggio who adapted well to the language and quickly traded in his car for the ease of the efficient Stockholm public transit system. On the field, Husidic made 41 appearances for former Galaxy defender and then-Hammarby head coach Gregg Berhalter, but once the American was relieved of his duties on July 23, the Bosnian saw the writing on the wall as quickly found himself out of favor with the team’s new management team.
Enter the LA Galaxy.
After LA had acquired his rights in the deal that sent Pablo Mastroeni to the Galaxy last June, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena and Sarachan offered Husidic yet another opportunity to start over that was ultimately too good for Baggio to pass up.
“There’s one team that you want to go to in MLS, it’s the Galaxy,” said Husidic. “I’m sure the word of the Sarachans went a long way and I have to thank them for the chance, but now I know that I need to prove myself to really earn a role on this team.”
The adaptation process was swift for the 26-year-old who soon traded in life in frigid Stockholm for sun-swept shores of Hermosa Beach with his girlfriend Fay, his dog Nyte and cat Nesta. During the preseason, Husidic utilized the defensive skills honed in Sweden to provide Arena with the type of defensive versatility that the club lacked during their ill-fated 2013 season.
For the first three matches of the season, Husidic found himself behind incumbent starting midfielders Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho, but against Real Salt Lake on March 22, he was offered his chance. Starting along the left side of a diamond midfield, the cagey Husidic helped the Galaxy slow down the fast-paced RSL attack as LA earned their first point of the fledgling 2014 campaign.
A starting position that Husidic hopes to hold throughout the year.
“You learn throughout your career that nothing comes for granted when you get a position on a team. If you want to keep it, you need to be willing to do whatever it takes,” said Husidic. “Whether it’s slide tackling or making an offensive play that’s needed, you need to do it if you’re going to stay in the fold.”
After spending much of his life on the move, Husidic is hoping to at long last find a home with the Galaxy.
“Every experience builds your character. It helps you appreciate the smaller things in life because I know that I’ve gone from having nothing to having more than enough,” said Husidic. “Nothing in life comes easy so I know that when you get in a position you want to keep it.”