When Mickey Daly and Nemanja Vukovic play side by side in central defense, good things happen for Republic FC.
In the handful of matches they have played together, Sacramento not only hasn’t allowed a goal, it has played some of its best soccer.
But their time together has been limited this season.
Vukovic spent most of the year recovering from hernia surgery. Daly missed most of one match and all of a second with a hip strain. He suffered the injury in a 2-1 loss to the Orange County Blues FC on April 24. Daly left in the 36th minute with Republic FC up 1-0, then missed the next match, an ego-busting 1-0 loss to the last-place Real Monarchs SLC.
Vukovic and Daly were back together on May 9 against the Seattle Sounders FC 2 at Bonney Field. Republic FC walloped the Sounders 2 3-0 to move ahead of Seattle into first place. It was arguably Republic FC’s best performance of the year.
It may be no coincidence that it came in just the second match that Daly and Vukovic played together for a full 90 minutes.
Their synchronicity is difficult to replicate.
“They’re experienced guys who have been playing together for more than a year,” said Republic FC coach Preki. “They know the other’s movements, weaknesses and strengths. When they are under pressure, they don’t panic.”
The duo is carrying a 261-minute scoreless streak into Sunday’s match at the rival LA Galaxy II in Carson. They hope to help Republic FC beat the Galaxy II for the sixth time in eight matches overall and third consecutive time this season.
Daly and Vukovic were the team’s most durable players last season. They each played in 30 of 31 USL regular-season and playoff matches. They were the team’s top two in overall minutes played.
Daly was the team’s starting right center back from Day One. Vukovic moved from left outside back to left center defender in late June when incumbent Harrison Delbridge lost the starting job.
It was like the melding of peanut butter and jelly.
With the two at center back, Republic FC finished the USL season strongly. Sacramento went 13-3-2 in winning the USL championship.
This season, Vukovic missed eight matches before playing outside left back for 25 minutes in Republic FC’s 3-1 win in the league home opener against the Galaxy II at Bonney Field. Vukovic was glad to be back in the middle the next match, a 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, when he entered at halftime.
“It’s so easy to play with Mickey,” Vukovic said. “He knows how to play, understands the game and is a good organizer.”
The respect is mutual.
“His experience is invaluable,” Daly said. “We started building chemistry together last year, so when he came back, we kind of picked up where we left off. The center backs control the game, since we like to play a lot from the back. So it helps that we have a real good feel for each other’s tendencies. When we are linked together and supporting each other, it helps the team go forward.”
Both have similar attributes. The 31-year-old Vukovic is 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds; the 27-year-old Daly is 6-1, 180. So both are excellent target players on set pieces; both scored four goalslast season, and each has a goal this season.
8 Matches missed by Nemanja Vukovic while recovering from hernia surgery
But their backgrounds are completely different. Vukovic, a native of Montenegro, played most of his career in Europe; Daly is a California kid, except for playing in 2013 with the Wilmington Hammerheads.
Vukovic, who played in 2012 with the Columbus Crew, was the 2014 USL Defender of the Year, and he joined midfielder Rodrigo Lopez on last year’s All-USL team.
But Lopez said he would give his early-season MVP vote this year to the undecorated Daly for keeping things together through a rocky period while Vukovic mended.
“Mickey has been phenomenal all season,” Lopez said. “I don’t think he gets enough credit back there.”
- at Los Angeles
- WHEN: Sunday, 4:15 p.m.