Mickey Daly learned a lot last season playing his first professional soccer gig for the Wilmington Hammerheads on the other side of the United States.
But that didn’t stop the 27-year-old defender from helping Republic FC defeat the reeling North Carolina team 2-0 in a USL Pro match Wednesday night at Bonney Field.
The win extended Sacramento’s league home unbeaten streak to 10 matches. Wilmington lost its fifth in a row and first without 16-year coach David Irving, who did not make the trip to Sacramento and may no longer be the coach. New technical director Carson Porter took his place.
Daly has been one of Republic FC’s most reliable players this season and is improving at such a pace that team technical director Graham Smith and coach Preki believe he has a future at the next level.
Smith, a former coach and team president with the amateur Ventura County Fusion, watched the Sonoma native improve for two seasons with the fourth-division USL Premier Development League team.
“Mickey is steady,” said Smith, a former pro goalkeeper in England. “He’s never going to let you down. We feel he’s good enough to play in Major League Soccer.”
Smith suggested that Irving, a former English Football League and North American Soccer League striker, give Daly a look. Daly signed his first pro contract after a trial and joined a well-established team that had lost to the Charleston Battery in the USL Pro championship match the season before.
“It helped a lot going out there,” Daly said. “There is a big difference between PDL and USL (Pro). It’s a faster pace and more competitive game. There’s a lot of games in a short period of time. It was a great way to get used to the professional level.”
Although he acclimated to the humidity and unpredictable weather in coastal Wilmington and was asked back after the Hammerheads missed the postseason by one point, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return to California when Republic FC was formed and Smith signed on as its technical director.
“Sacramento is close to my hometown, close to my family and all my friends,” Daly said. “It was a better fit for me to stay in California than to go back to the East Coast.”
Daly was the second player to sign with Republic FC. He had Smith in his corner, but he still had to win over Preki, who knew little about him.
After Daly’s 26 matches, all starts, Preki is coming around.
“He’s been a nice addition to the club,” Preki said. “Mickey is a guy who comes to work every day. He’s steady. He’s pretty decent with the ball and he doesn’t make too many mistakes.”
Daly did make an error on Sunday when he fouled the Orange County Blues’ Allan Russell in the box. It resulted in a penalty kick that tied the score 1-1 in the 48th minute. But six minutes later a relieved Daly scored off a deflection from Max Alvarez’s free kick that started an onslaught of goals in Republic FC’s 6-1 win.
“That’s one of the things about being a defender,” he said. “One mistake and it can be a game-changer. So it was good to get a goal and get us back ahead.”
It also saved him from Preki’s wrath.
“He got pretty lucky because the ball came his way,” Preki said, smiling. “He knows I wasn’t happy with the penalty kick. But he said he had good karma. He kind of bailed himself out of that situation.”
While Daly’s goal was fortuitous, he showed earlier in the season that he’s got some offensive skills, too. His goal in a 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy II was voted the USL Pro Goal of the Month for April. Teammates Dakota Collins followed in May and Rodrigo Lopez in June.
“It’s pretty cool that three of us get goal of month for the first three months,” Daly said. “It helped put our club on the map and helped get our name out there.”
With the tremendous fan support and the strong showing in Republic FC’s historic first season, it will be hard to leave the team. But Daly’s window to play at the highest levels is closing, and even if Sacramento gets awarded an MLS franchise, the move won’t happen next season.
“My goal has always been to move up, and I’ve been pushing myself to get to the next level, whether it’s MLS or overseas,” he said. “But if nothing else, I can play another year in USL and continue to challenge myself to keep improving and getting better.”