By Daniel Cermak/NPSL.com
Michigan Stars FC winger Steven Juncaj is looking forward to playing against the high level of
competition offered by the NPSL Members Cup, and will even have the chance to play against
one of his idols.
“The Members Cup has a lot of good teams, probably the best teams in all of the NPSL,” Juncaj
said. “I especially want to play against the Cosmos, my family comes from Montenegro,
originally from northern Albania, and I grew up watching (Ansi Agolli) with the Albanian
National Team in the Euros playing against some of the best teams in the world, so with him as a
right defender and me as a left winger it’s going to provide a special experience.”
Though the match-up with the Cosmos is on the back of Juncaj’s mind, this week’s match
against Chattanooga is front and center, especially as it offers Juncaj and Stars FC with their first
match in Members Cup play. Juncaj is ready for the challenge.
“Against Chattanooga it may be hard because we haven’t played any games yet, but around the
locker room we talk about just playing our game and giving 100%,” Juncaj said. “Whatever the
outcome is, it’s meant to be, if we are meant to win it will happen, so we just have to go over
there and play with confidence.”
Juncaj’s whirlwind playing career even at just 21 has certainly helped him play with confidence.
Growing up in Michigan, Juncaj decided to make the jump to Europe at 17, where after various
trials in the Netherlands, Juncaj joined the Vitesse U-19’s. Later that year, Juncaj was offered
his first professional contract when he joined second division Dutch side Den Bosch, the
launching pad for Ruud Van Nistlerooy’s career. During his time with Den Bosch, Juncaj
returned to the U.S. to complete his high school diploma. After completing high school, Juncaj
spent three months with the Barcelona academy and moved to Grasshopper FC Zurich.
Following his time in Zurich, Juncaj decided to come back home to the U.S.
Juncaj was looking forward to playing for Oakland University, but was actually denied by the
NCAA due to his professional status after receiving a salary in Europe. Following this, the
NPSL offered Juncaj a platform to develop as a soccer player, and Juncaj is grateful for the
opportunities the league has provided.
“When I couldn’t play for Oakland (University), the NPSL was a very big help for me, it has a
lot of good competition and a lot of previous pro players,” Juncaj said. “What I like about the
NPSL is you have a variety of players from various places and it’s always a challenge to beat a
player…here you’re trying to perfect your game, find your rhythm, and find what works for
Juncaj has certainly shone in the NPSL, where the winger was named to the Great Lakes
Conference Best XI and the Midwest Region Best XI. Juncaj was a consistent presence for
Michigan Stars FC as well, starting in all 14 matches and recording two goals and five assists.
Moving into the Members Cup, Juncaj isn’t worried about his stats, but is locked in on helping
his team win.
“First and foremost I want to help the team win,” Juncaj said. “If the ball is there, I’ll shoot it,
that’s what I’m planning for, but soccer is a team sport. Just because you don’t score, don’t
assist, it doesn’t mean you’re having a bad game, you may be helping the team defensively,
staying organized, not letting your job down.”
Juncaj is also focused on helping the club off the pitch with his team’s performance on it.
“Because we’re a new team, we’re trying to bring fans and an environment where people can
come and see some quality soccer,” Juncaj said. “We want to bring in fans that want to see
Michigan Stars FC play soccer because of how we play the game, and build an atmosphere that
is respectful to players and fans alike.”
Finally, Juncaj is utilizing the Members Cup as an opportunity to step his game up.
“This season individually, I want to become a better player and use the Members Cup to become
more and more professional and excel my game to the next level.”
Photo Credit: Mariusz Nowak