Joe Raduka’s soccer journey is an epic one, spanning four countries over four decades.
It all started in his native Yugoslavia, where he was discovered playing futsal on the streets. He wasn’t found by just anyone; instead it was a scout for the legendary Red Star Belgrade. Raduka signed a ten-year contract and would remain there until 1978.
His dream to come to America came true in 1978 when he was courted by several teams in the original North American Soccer League (NASL). He would sign with the Oakland Stompers despite an offer being on the table from German giant Bayern Munich.
“It was my dream to live in America,” Raduka stated. “America gave me a chance that no other country could.”
He would arrive in the U.S., not knowing a word of English and having little knowledge of the culture, other than sharing a fascination with John Wayne and Johnny Cash. The club would put him up in a hotel in downtown San Francisco and he would spend the first few months in America as a shy, young man who didn’t stand out in a crowd.
“The people of Oakland and San Francisco were so warm and welcoming,” Raduka continued. “So many people helped me.”
Going unnoticed ended when he stepped on the pitch. He quickly became one of the league’s top defenders and one of the team’s fan favorites. He even drew the admiration of musician Eddie Money, who regarded Raduka as his favorite player.
Raduka would often be asked to mark the opponent’s top attackers. This would literally include some of the world’s best, including George Best, Giorgio Chinaglia, Gordon Hill, Kaz Deyna, and Johan Cruyff.
“Playing in the NASL was incredible,” Raduka added. “There were superstars, huge stadiums, great crowds. I couldn’t believe I was playing with so many great players.”
The New York Cosmos were getting lots of attention at the time and Raduka regarded them as one of the world’s best. After all they were traveling the globe, playing against the very best and biggest clubs.
He had so many great stories to share, everything from trying to trade shirts with Franz Beckenbauer to a misunderstanding about garage sales to a cookout gone awry. Every story was incredible and it was very clear that Raduka was equally good at telling stories, playing, and of course coaching.
His NASL career was a successful one and also included playing for the Edmonton Drillers from 1979-1981. He would go on loan to Belgian side Namur before returning to North America to play for the Golden Bay Earthquakes, Edmonton Eagles, and Cleveland Force.
He would even start his own youth program, Cleveland United Soccer Club, in 1987. He would bring his global soccer perspective to the Northeast Ohio soccer community, eventually adding the Canton United Soccer Club to the organization’s umbrella in 2008.
The club has grown into one of the region’s best and now includes over 1000 players from ages 8-19. They have been a dominant program in many regards, winning 37 state titles, three regional titles, and one national championship. Winning a national title is most impressive, considering over 10,000 teams are fighting for a single trophy.
Raduka remains the only coach in Ohio history to win the NSCAA National Youth Coach of the Year award. This bit of hardware was one of many for the beloved coach that has made a difference in the lives of so many.
“His influence is amazing,” Canton United’s Joe Pavlek stated. “Whatever I know, I learned from him. I wished every coach was like him.”
Raduka and his club have helped launch the careers of many players. Hundreds have gone on to the collegiate game. Twenty-two have gone on to play for the national team at some level with 38 moving on to play as professionals. Three even went onto a career in the NFL as kickers.
Kyle Veris was one of these standouts, spending time with the LA Galaxy, Puerto Rico Islanders, Miami FC, and Pittsburgh Riverhounds along with one year in the Norwegian leagues. Ryan Pore was another star player, finishing as a two-time All-American at the University of Tulsa before playing with the Kansas City Wizards, Portland Timbers, and Montreal Impact.
Cleveland and Canton United are also very committed to academics, knowing that less than 1% of players become professionals. Many have gone on to college degrees and some have even gotten into coaching. In fact, over half of the staff’s current coaches are former players. And a number have become successful doctors (13 to be exact) and business professionals. It’s an exciting success story.
All in all, you should consider yourself lucky if you have ever met Joe Raduka. It’s even better to have played with or for Raduka, who is one of the good guys in the beautiful game. He has literally experienced everything the game has to offer and more importantly, influenced the lives and careers of so many people.