Republic FC midfielder Ivan Mirkovic says it’s bittersweet that some of his former teammates and friends, especially Nemanja Vukovic, have left the team.
But he says professional soccer players are used to being vagabonds, something Republic FC fans might have a tough time understanding because the franchise is entering only its third year.
Starters Vukovic, Rodrigo López, Mickey Daly and Justin Braun and popular reserve Gabe Gissie have moved on to new clubs. All were members of the inaugural Republic FC team that won the USL championship in 2014. Also gone is last year’s goalkeeper Patrick McLain. He is now in the MLS with the Chicago Fire.
“Everybody sees that as a big, big change for the club, roster-wise, but I don’t think the fans should be disappointed with what happened in the offseason,” said Mirkovic, one of six original Republic players. “They have to understand that this is a business. It is what it is. Soccer players come and go.”
That goes for coaches, too.
“When Preki left, it was a big deal,” Mirkovic said. “Now nobody talks about Preki. In a couple of weeks, a couple of months, people won’t be talking about RoRo, Justin or anybody else who is gone. Everyone is going to be focusing on our games, this team.”
That doesn’t mean the players won’t miss their old teammates.
Mirkovic, 28, said he and Vukovic, both born in the Balkans, “are like twins.”
Mirkovic said it was emotional on Monday when Vukovic dropped by the locker room to say farewell before Republic FC’s first day of training at Cosumnes River College.
Vukovic (along with Braun) will play this season for the North American Soccer League Indy Eleven.
“I’m happy for him,” Mirkovic said. “I know he was happy to get a good contract and is excited about going into a new environment. But I also know he was sad. He loved Sacramento.”
Despite the departure of so many key players, Mirkovic doesn’t expect a drop in performance. He believes coach Paul Buckle will have a team that will play entertaining, attacking soccer and contend for the USL title.
“It’s going to be a younger team this year, but maybe that’s good,” Mirkovic said. “New guys are coming in who are hungry, and we have a coach hungry to show what he knows. I think it’s going to be an exciting year.”
Bonding experience – Republic FC is spending a week of training in Mazatlán, Mexico, and forward Thomas Stewart thinks it will be a huge benefit for a team that has several new players and has its first match against the Colorado Rapids on Feb. 13 at Bonney Field.
“It’s extremely beneficial and ideal at this point to do that,” Stewart said. “The guys get a chance to bond and focus their attention on training and fitness while getting away from the comforts of home.”
He also likes that the team will quickly jump into the fire by playing the Rapids, then the San Jose Earthquakes seven days later.
“It’s nice to hit the ground running and important to test ourselves in these type of games,” Stewart said. “It’s especially good for the new guys. It shows what it takes to play at that level, and what we’ll need to do to get better.”
U.S. Open Cup – Republic FC will be one of 92 teams that will compete in the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the world’s third-longest-running open soccer tournament.
Sacramento will open play in the second round on May 18 against an opponent to be determined. Republic FC is one of 19 third-division USL teams in the competition that is dominated by the MLS. All 17 American-based MLS teams will be entered this year.
Last year, Republic FC advanced to the fourth round after defeating the Sonoma County Sol and Chula Vista FC, two fourth-division teams, at Bonney Field. Sacramento lost a thrilling 6-5 penalty-kick extra-time shootout to the Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium.
Who’s captain? – With last year’s captains – Braun and Lopez – gone, Buckle said he will chose a new captain and vice captain, hopefully by the time Sacramento plays the Rapids.
He already has met with potential candidates Dominik Jakubek, Danny Barrera, Derek Foran and Mirkovic.
“These are the type of boys who I’m looking at,” Buckle said. “Right now it’s up for grabs, and I told them I’m looking for leadership in our training sessions.”