The recent selling of Braun and Vukovic to Indy Eleven should not come as a shock to Republic fans as much as it has. Director of Football Graham Smith has said that Republic will focus on developing players and bringing them through the ranks, as opposed to buying players. This off-season has become Exhibit A.
Smith’s UK visit included several Academy tours and a meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson. One of the academies was Southampton FC. Southampton’s most successful graduates get sold for cartoon-sized bags of cash and go on to top clubs that win trophies on a regular basis. Ferguson was adept at both spotting young talent and integrating academy graduates into the Manchester United first team. Their academy was a perpetual source of talent that allowed Man U continued dominance in the Premier League for more than a generation. Achieving success for so long is a quite a feat when the career of a footballer is relatively short, maybe ten years at a professional level, fifteen if college is counted or bypassed.
In 2014 when both players were signed, Bruan was 28 and Vukovic 31. These players were sold at the ages of 30 and 33, respectively. Both are seasoned veterans with leadership skills, but closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. They moved on to join Indy Eleven, a NASL team with championship ambitions. These are not the only all star signings Indy has made this off-season, also bringing in Colin Falvey, a 30 year old defender with extended playing time for NASL Fall 2015 Champion's Ottawa Fury. Indy Eleven underperformed last year, and with these new signings hopes to bring glory to their sellout crowds (10,524) and Brickyard Battalion.
With only twelve teams competing in the NASL, Braun and Vukovic will have a better chance of lifting a trophy with Indy before the end of their playing careers than with a Republic team that is in transition. It will not be easy watching them celebrate with a different club, but I hope that they will be celebrating nonetheless. At least we won’t have to play against them.
Daly and Gissie both moved to Bethlehem Steel. There is a sense that this move was prompted by that team’s ownership and affiliation with Philadelphia Union FC. Of the two, the move by Gissie was more understandable, but also more painful. His young age and potential was something to look forward to for next season in Roro’s absence. With all the departures, there is little doubt he would have been starting in March.
Roro, now 28 and in his prime years with ambitions of playing at the highest level, is now a starter for Mexico’s 2nd Division squad Celaya FC. In a promotion and relegation league, like the one Mexico has, he might just get his chance.
The contributions of the players who have left during the off-season can be measured in MVP awards, all star roster nods, and silverware. It would be difficult to overstate their value to the club and its success over the past two years. The accumulation of minutes played has dwarfed those players who will be assuming their positions on the field. Many of those players are familiar to fans, but haven’t played under the glare of stadium lights recently. In addition, Guzman will return from a long absence due to injury. And a few new players are filling in the void with more signings on the way.
The U17/18 youth team has made a spectacular run of form. They continued their winning streak in January with two more, bringing the streak to five, after winning all three matches in November. Coach Buckle recently expressed the desire to bring some of the 18-year-olds into the first team. There is no excuse not to come out, see who may be our next star, and whet your appetite to cheer on the Republic by cheering on the Republic. (Their home games are played at Cosumnes River College. The next one is the evening of Tuesday, February 2nd. After two away matches, they will return the morning of February 20th.)
The season tickets we all placed down payments for in November are almost paid off. Some fans might have forgone them if they knew how many of the players they came to admire would be leaving. Yet that is the way of football, bonds are made between fans and players that last longer than the time on the pitch. The third season awaits.