AUGUST 25, 2021

The American club from Columbus, owned by a Croatian expert, stayed in Zagreb for two weeks.
The Blast FC football club from Columbus, the largest and capital city of Ohio, spent about two weeks in Croatia, mostly in Zagreb. Those who follow football closely may remember that this is a club that was bought some time ago by Romeo Jozak, one of the founders of the Dinamo football school for years, and then of the Croatian Football Association. Basically, Jozak decided to bring his U-16 team to Croatia and allow them to try in four games with selections coming from a country that is second in the world. And Jozak’s kids proved surprisingly good. They beat Lokomotiva’s peers even with 3: 0, and the young Lokomotiva are at the top of Croatian football. Blast’s young hopes also surpassed the U-16 team of HAŠK (4: 0), they drew against Maksimir (1: 1), and the only defeat (1: 0) they suffered against – Dinamo.
And Dinamo scored the winning goal five minutes before the end of the game.
Young football players from the United States and their parents are visiting Croatia.
Blast FC is, by the way, a club that has a great tradition, but is exclusively focused on working with children and young people. The club was founded by Lesh Shkreli, who was a Red Star player as a child and who coached young men from Columbus who were staying in Zagreb.
– Together we are delighted with everything we experienced in Zagreb. I’m not just talking about the children from our team, but also about their parents, because a lot of them came to Croatia. People are wonderful, cordial, helpful to us every step of the way. We had great accommodation at the Westin as well as great working conditions. When we came, I told everyone that he would be very surprised by Zagreb and Croatia, because I had already been there as a young man, but everyone is best convinced of something when they see it with their own eyes. We were also on excursions in Opatija and Plitvice Lakes, so the overall impression is phenomenal. And our food delighted them – Lesh Shkreli told us.
Did you expect that your young men could match the young hopes of Dinamo so well or outplay their Lokomotiva peers?
– I am always realistic and I must therefore admit that we were very lucky in those matches. In addition, our guys came here full of motivation and desire to show themselves against such strong opponents, they did their best in every game. On the other hand, it was felt that the players of Dinamo or Lokomotiva were a little saturated with the season, that going to the sea was already in their heads, so that also helped us. However, the physical fitness of our players and the great fighting spirit certainly surprised the Croatian young men.
What is the main difference between our and your players?
– In Dinamo and Lokomotiva, children train with the idea that they will become professionals. Plus you have a great football school. In our country, children are different, many have not even chosen the sport they would like to play, because American football, baseball or hockey are still more popular there. We end up taking second- or third-grade kids, and they too see football as an opportunity to get a college scholarship. However, we are proud to have knocked out as many as 15 players who have become professionals over the years. That’s a big reach.
Romeo Jozak bought your club a year, two ago, and announced quite big ambitions?
– I kept the club alive for 45 years. And we had a lot of good things for that level. But we just stuck working with the kids. I have to tell you that I had a lot of offers to sell the club, especially in recent years, but I turned them down one by one, until Romeo Jozak showed up. I left the club to him without any thought, because I know what kind of mark he left in Croatian football, and what his ambitions are in Columbus.
The shifts are already visible?
– Rome’s vision is to raise the club to a higher level. He recently bought 110 hectares of land on which new land will sprout. There will also be one with artificial grass, and one that will be covered, in the hall. Ohio has cold winters, the hall will make a big difference. We’re like a club back 30 years among two in Ohio State working with kids. Now we will go one step further, and even two steps further, because Romeo is building everything carefully, but also very ambitiously.
Do you have Croatian coaches in the club?
– Matej Mlakić came from Zagreb, but more as a manager who needs to organize the club logistically. We were also helped by Stipe Banić, a young coach from Croatia, who has a fantastic will to work and progress, and already knows a lot. The idea is not to rush. We are going to build the infrastructure, and then we will start with the real strengthening of the profession. Is a senior team also in the plan?
– We’ll have her too, but when the time comes. And it will be dominated by players from our school. You have talents, that was seen in Zagreb?
– I would say that five or six of our young men could compete to play in the HNL one day. They have great potential, it was seen in Zagreb. When the Croatian football flair is added to their energy and desire to work, then the boys will progress further. Our story is serious, it is already recognized by many in Columbus, but I am convinced that this is just the beginning. Before that, we will definitely come to Croatia again, but now we are targeting Dalmatia – concluded Lesh Shkreli.

Blast FC Soccer Academy
5620 St. George Ave
Westerville, Ohio 43082