Duluth soccer player Nikolai Iotov scored 18 goals last season to help the Wildcats reach the state playoffs. Iotov, who is from Bulgaria, has high aspirations for this season. (Staff photo: Brandon Brigman)
When Duluth’s boys soccer team came up with a new style of play last season, Nikolai Iotov wasn’t very fond of it.
As a striker, Iotov preferred the kick-and-run, long-ball style that allowed him to get quick-strike goals.
“After a few games and the defense from other teams pretty much shut down the long ball, I was like let’s try it out,” Iotov said. “Tiki-Taka opened the space in the defense to send it through and give us opportunities. After a couple of games, I got used to it.”
Iotov and his teammates call the style Tiki-Taka, which involves a lot of shorter passing to wear down a defense. It worked last year as it helped put Duluth into the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Iotov still got his goals, too, scoring 18 last season.
“Most of my success has come from the team,” Iotov said. “If it wasn’t for them and us playing as a team, 90 percent of the opportunities I’ve gotten wouldn’t be there without them. When I do well, it’s because our whole team does well.”
His coach thinks Iotov is a big reason for that.
“He just works. Even though he’s good, sometimes those good players don’t give that extra work ethic, but he does and the other kids feed off of it,” first-year Duluth coach Adel Mohsen said. “He’s just one of those kids that works off the ball and makes other people around him better.”
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Iotov is a standout soccer player. He comes from pretty good bloodlines.
His father, Velko Iotov, is a former professional soccer player and a was a member of the Bulgarian National Team that finished fourth at the 1994 World Cup. Velko also played for Levski, Espanol, Argentina, Charleston Battery and Atlanta Silverbacks.
Iotov’s older sister Stefani is a 2011 Duluth grad who signed with Georgia Perimeter College and played for the Bulgarian National Team.
“Since I was little, I told my father, ‘My goal is to be better than you,’” Iotov said. “Every time he comes to a game, he doesn’t give me sympathy. He tells me right off the bat what I did wrong. That’s just motivation to get better.”
Mohsen was well aware of the Iotov family before he met Nikolai. He watched Velko play soccer for the Silverbacks and tried to recruit Stefani while he was at Andrew College. He first met Nikolai last summer before school even started.
“Coming into a new program, I didn’t know of the kids at the school. He came to my room to greet me and tell me how excited he is to have me at Duluth,” Mohsen said. “For a kid to come out and do that in the summer, I thought that was pretty special. It showed leadership and initiative.”
Mohsen has relied on Iotov to be the leader this season. The Wildcats began the year with a tough game against Lanier and trailed 2-1 at halftime. Mohsen pulled Iotov aside to try and rally the team.
“I told him even though you’re not having your game, lead us in another way and they will feed off of that,” Mohsen said. “Sure enough, we scored three goals in the second half and won 4-2.”
Iotov has set the bar high for himself this season. He wants to score 32 goals and break the school record and help put his team back in the playoffs.
“I want him to. I told him you have to average 2-3 goals a game. It’s going to be hard,” Mohsen said. “It’s hard to find that person that can finish. There’s a difference between a finisher and a scorer. He’s a finisher. If he’s in front of the goal, he’s not going to be one of those guys that misses. He just has that knack.”
THE IOTOV FILE
Name: Nikoli Iotov
Favorite sports team: Manchester City
Favorite TV show: “Tosh.O”
Dream job: Professional soccer player
• Scored 18 goals last season
• Made of 9 of 12 field goals in football, including a pair of 42-yard field goals against No. 1-ranked North Gwinnett
• Maintains 3.0 GPA
• Signed with Mount Olive College to play soccer
• Was born in Barcelona, Spain, but is from Bulgaria
• Father Velko Iotov played in 1994 World Cup with Bulgarian National Team