Adnan Gabeljic’s mood was as dour as the cold and fog last Wednesday night at San Francisco’s Beach Chalet Soccer Complex, a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean.
Gabeljic and his San Francisco City FC amateur soccer team had just lost 3-0 to CD Aguiluchos USA in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup.
That meant there would be no return trip to sunny Sacramento for Gabeljic to play against Republic FC, his former team, in Wednesday’s second round of the annual mega tournament that features amateur and pro teams.
Instead it will be the Oakland-based Aguiluchos who will look to take their Cinderella shot at upsetting the 2014 USL champions.
“I don’t know about the other team, if they were more fit or just wanted it more, but it was a tough result,” Gabeljic said of his team’s loss to Aguiluchos. “It’s disappointing because I have some good Open Cup memories. I was looking forward to the chance to play one more time in Sacramento.”
Last May, Gabeljic scored a hat trick in Republic FC’s 7-3 win over Chula Vista FC.
“That was a special moment for me, probably the highlight of my professional career,” said Gabeljic, who appeared in 17 Republic FC matches, mostly as a reserve.
Even though Republic FC exercised its contract option on Gabeljic after the season and coach Paul Buckle raved about his potential before the start of training in February, the former Sporting Kansas City draft pick said he decided to retire when Sacramento wouldn’t re-negotiate his contract.
The 23-year old now an engineer for a San Francisco pipeline company and keeps fit by training and playing several times a week with San Francisco City FC.
Last season Gabeljic got caught up in a numbers game. He was one of seven forwards and played behind veterans Tommy Stewart, Justin Braun and David Estrada (before his late season release).
So Gabeljic couldn’t wait to check out another off-season option. He had caught the eye of Atlas FC coaches with his play in Republic FC’s 4-1 loss to the Liga MX side in a July friendly at Bonney Field.
He trained with the Mexican side for several weeks in the winter, and said Atlas FC was interested in placing him on their reserve team. But Atlas wouldn’t pay Republic FC compensation and Buckle said he wasn’t about to just give away Gabeljic.
Buckle saw the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Gabeljic having a bigger role for the team in 2016 after several forwards departed.
“We had two strikers (Stewart and Braun) up front who were regular stars for us, and we were making a playoff push when I came in, so we found it difficult to get him in, “ Buckle told The Bee in January. “But he's strong, quick and can really smash the ball.”
But Gabeljic said he wanted a bump in pay beyond the league mandated 10 percent for an option contract – he wouldn’t say how much – as a show of faith.
“I figured if they were serious about giving me a better chance, they would invest more in me,” Gabeljic said. “Some of their highest paid players, like RoRo (Rodgio Lopez), Justin and Nemanja Vukovic were already gone. So when we never came to terms, I decided it was better to start my (engineering) career sooner rather than later.”
Although he now makes more money in the 9-to-5 world, he said he enjoyed his time with Republic FC. He liked the challenge in practice competing with and against some of the league’s best players. And he relished the Bonney Field experience.
“There are no hard feelings,” Gabeljic said. “I’m hoping that Sacramento does well. I want them to get into MLS.”
MATCH AT A GLANCE
CD AGUILUCHOS USA VS REPUBLIC FC (U.S.Open Cup)
When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bonney Field
The skinny: The U.S. Open Cup gives amateur teams like the Oakland-based CD Aguiluchos USA a shot at upsetting a professional team like Republic FC. This is a second round match. Sacramento got a first-round bye, as did all other qualifying USL teams. The CD Aguiluchos defeated San Francisco City FC 3-0 last Wednesday behind goals by Simon Rawsley, Miguel Santiago and Ricardo Guerra. The team, originally founded as a community club for players of Salvadoran descent, competes in the fourth division National Premier Soccer League, and among its Golden Gate Conference rivals is the Sacramento Gold. Look for Republic FC coach Paul Buckle to utilize some of his players who have seen little or no action in USL play. It’s a busy eight days for Republic FC with the Liverpool FC 21s coming to play Sacramento at Bonney Field on Saturday and in Reno on Wednesday.