I recently caught up with Sacramento Republic FC midfielder Villyan Bijev. I had been wanting to talk with him for some time in a one-on-one setting — especially in light of a 2018 season where I think he was really sensational.
We discussed what he has been up to in the off-season, his thoughts on his play (and that of his team) last season, favorite holiday traditions/foods, and more.
I found him to be incredibly thoughtful in his responses. They way he approaches nutrition and its connection to how he performs on the field was incredibly insightful, and his inclusion of Messi and Ronaldo as part of his response to one of my questions was funny.
It’s easy to see why the Republic wanted him back. I hope you enjoy and please share!
It’s hard to believe the season is already two months old. How have you been?
I’ve been really good. Just training...took a couple weeks off once the season ended to let my body recover, and then after that, I started working out again at Results. Luke our fitness coach and trainer has been there with us as well. [We] are on our fifth week of training now and it’s been going really well...just working out, doing a lot of gym stuff and working on [my] agility.
How would you evaluate your play last season and that of the club?
Something to build off of. For my play personally, I was playing a position for the first time. I have never really played left or right wing. I played either center forward or attacking mid. So playing on the wing was a new position for me, and I was just learning and adapting to it the whole season.
Considering that, I think I did really well. I am really confident in 1v1 and going at people. I can cross the ball well with my left and right foot, which is good because I can play on either side. As the season went on, I got more comfortable switching from side to side, as well as the coach letting me know when would be a good time for me to switch, just to kind of mix it up on the defense. I [also] scored a couple of important goals which helped us. I could have been better in a couple of situations.
As a team, we did really well. I think there were 10-12 new players brought together. Considering that, the coach and the general manager did a really good job bringing the players together, because we did really gel well.
[It was] super disappointing to get knocked out of the first round, because I think we were good enough to go all the way and win it, but that’s soccer. It’s one game at a time. So I think we underachieved in the end.
Were you relieved to have your contract picked up for 2019? Can you walk me through that process?
Once the season ends, the team has a month to decide what they want to do with each player. With me personally, we’ve always had good communication with the GM, with the owner, coaching staff, so they have just been straight-forward with me and I have been straight-forward with them.
When the season ended, they were happy with the way I played, but saw more potential in me that they think they are capable of bringing out, so they thought I would still be a good fit to play here next season.
I [also] think they saw me as a good person and representation of what the club stands for. I am a straight-forward guy, I get a long really well with the fans and love the community work. It’s representative of the indomitable part of the club. And I want to win and continue to get better...improving where I can.
The goal for me is to continue to climb higher and higher in my profession. The next step for me is MLS. That’s ultimately where I want to get to. If I’m not playing in MLS, there was no other USL team for this season that I would have considered playing for.
I’m really happy in Sacramento. The fans have welcomed me in an incredible way. They have been extremely kind to me. Even when it hasn’t gone well, they still support us. [The club] made the decision pretty easy to stay here.
How does the off-season look like for a professional soccer player?
I know a lot of people go home. A lot of people who are not from this area were here for nine months straight, so if you don’t live around the area, it’s really hard to go home and see your family and friends. It provides a mental relaxation...sort of a mental breath to reset everything and be around the people that you’re closest too and most comfortable with.
I am personally trying out different things nutrition wise. I’ve read up a lot about the vegetarian and vegan diets. I’m trying to replace a lot of my meat intake and with vegetables to see how I feel. The nutrition part is huge in the season. Mid-season, it’s kind of hard to try new things. You’re constantly tired and you have games coming up. I wouldn’t want to try a new diet right before a game.
You always want to do more and be more, but a part of it is having the energy to do what you want to do. I want my body to be able to do what my mind wants it to do.
Is there a player that you’d like to see added to the team in the off-season that would help put the club over the top?
I have never really thought about it. Obviously, it would be nice to have a Messi or Ronaldo. That would be pretty cool.
If we can find a great player for any position, it would obviously be a boost. But a big part of it is their personality. They can be a great player, but if they’re not gelling well with the team we have, or they’re not agreeing with the philosophy of our coaching staff, then that doesn’t work either. It’s really hard to say. There are so many factors that our coach and general manager have to factor in than oh...he’s just a great player.
[But] it would be great to have someone who is going to score more goals, someone who is going to create more assists, a defender that nobody is going to get past, or a midfielder that never loses the ball. I trust the coach and general manager that they will continue to bring in players that are willing to work hard, improve and be part of our system.
It’s the holiday season. Do you have a favorite holiday tradition or food?
Just being at home for Christmas. Back when I was playing in England, I think my third year at Liverpool, we found out that we were going to get five days off at Christmas. So I’m living in England thinking...how am I going to get back to California? We have five days. Two of the days are just travel.
At that point, I decided that it doesn’t matter where I am or what the situation is. I just want to be home for Christmas with my parents and brother. I ended up spending a ton of money on a business class seat to go home and be back.
Food wise, it’s not specific to Christmas...but I really like Baklava. It’s a pastry with pistachios in it..it’s layered with sweet syrup. That’s a food I look forward to having.
Many thanks to Villyan Bijev for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat. Be sure to check back all off-season long as we continue to bring you interviews and insights with players, coaches and front office peeps from the Republic.