By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Billy Boljevic, a high-scoring forward who played with several teams in the American Soccer League, Major Indoor Soccer League, American Indoor Soccer Association, and the original United Soccer League, reportedly has passed away.

Former Detroit Express teammate Steve Westbrook reported Boljevic had died on Thursday.

Chuck Murr, a top contributor to the American Soccer League (1921-1931, 1933-1983) page on Facebook, also announced Boljevic’s passing on his Facebook page.

Boljevic was 70.

He played with the New York Eagles, Columbus Magic, Rochester Flash and Detroit Express in the ASL, the New Jersey Rockets and Kansas City Comets in the MISL, New York Nationals and Dallas Americans in the USL and Columbus Capitals in the AISA.

Born in Crvenka, Serbia (the former Yugoslavia on Aug. 24, 1952, Boljevic was ASL MVP in 1981, scoring 25 goals and assisted on nine others in 26 appearances for the Eagles. He joined the Express for the 1982 season, helping the team secure the league title behind 13 goals and 14 assists. He added nine goals and six assists for Detroit in 1983.

“Billy was a classic center forward, exceptional in the air and lethal with a shot if you gave him just a step,” Murr wrote. “If not, he’d just bulldoze you and shoot.”

“He’s like a runaway truck,” Oklahoma City Slickers general manager Jim Walker described the forward in The Oklahoma in 1983.

During his prime, Boljevic’s critics said that he was too slow. They said that he was overweight. They said that he looked older than 28-years-old.

Yet, he always found ways to score goals.

Many goals.

At 6-foot and 215-lbs., Boljevic looked quite deceptive.

“He is a mountain,” Oklahoma City Stampede defender Pete Knezic told The Daily Oklahoma in 1984. “He’s a player a lot of fans will look at and say to themselves, ‘What’s he doing out there.’ ”

In a 1981 interview for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle with this writer, Boljevic admitted that he sometimes was lackadaisical on the pitch, but he said that it was part of an act to lull the opposition into a sense of false security (the Democrat and Chronicle spelled his last name as Bolevic because of poor communication concerning official rosters in the ASL in those days).

“It’s my style,” he said. “I look very bad on the field. I look totally relaxed. I make my man think I’m too heavy and too slow. I want them to think, ‘He looks like he’s retired and not interested in the game.’ ”

Obviously, the ploy worked again and again, particularly in the opposing penalty area.

When he got the ball on his foot, he had a striking transformation. He suddenly picked up speed. The stunned defender usually was left behind watching the man nicknamed Boomer launch one of his well-known bullet shots on goal.

“He’s an excellent striker,” Flash coach Don Lalka said at the time. “Giorgio Chinaglia is criticized because he doesn’t pass the ball and that he sometimes looks awkward. Bill Boljevic is very effective. He’s a tremendous striker. He gets the job done, and that’s all that matters.”

He especially was quite effective against the Flash. In his first two games against Rochester that season, Boljevic recorded four goals and assisted on a fifth.

Asked why he was so successful against the Flash, Boljevic responded, “Their four defenders play in a line. They play me differently. Other teams try and put two men on each side of me. I don’t know why they make the mistake.”

Of course, the Flash wasn’t the only team that got its lumps against Boljevic.

In 1981 exhibition game, Boljevic and Pennsylvania Stoners captain Jeff Tipping collided and bumped heads while going for the ball. The collision was so fierce that Tipping had to be removed from the game due to a concussion.

“Tipping plays me hard, but fair,” Boljevic said.

Bolejvic needed a bandage to cover a cut on his right forehead as he remained in the game.

Ten minutes later, he headed the ball off the bandage and into the goal.

“It was my best goal of the season,” Boljevic said in 1981. “A cross came from the left wing and I jumped for it and headed it. But the bandage came off, and I started bleeding. I had blood all over my shirt and face.”

Boljevic continued playing. This was prior AIDS and other health issues forced bleeding players to put on a new uniform or leave the game. After the game, the striker heeded 15 stitches to close the cut.

Boljevic’s death elicited reactions from friend and foe on Murr’s Facebook post.

“Great teammate. Good drinking buddy. RIP,” wrote Trevor Franklin, a former Detroit teammate.

“Great guy. Saved our season in 1979,” wrote John Irvine, who worked in the front office of the Eagles, Cleveland Cobrras and Southern California Lazers in the ASL.

“Sorry to hear this, RIP Billy!” one-time Columbus teammate Bill McDonald wrote. “His head fractured mine in a game, but I recovered. Wonderful person who loved the game.”

“A pleasure to have played with the gentle giant,” wrote Chris Tyson, an Express teammate.

“I’m so sorry to hear this. RIP,” former Stampede player Jim Millinder said.