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Exclusive: Republic FC goalkeeper Josh Cohen transfers to Maccabi Haifa FC

Cohen is off to play in the Israeli Premier League in a deal that came together over the last two days.

Photo courtesy of William Hodges/Indomitable City Soccer

Indomitable City Soccer has learned that Sacramento Republic FC goalkeeper Josh Cohen has transferred to Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli Premier League in a deal that came together over the last few days. The news comes as a bit of a shock, but tremendous for Cohen who has been nothing but sensational for the Republic on and off the pitch.

In an exclusive interview with Republic FC General Manager Todd Dunivant, the decision to let Cohen transfer was not easy for the club, but certainly consistent with how the Republic have historically handled players getting a call to play at higher level. It is important to note that the Quails did make an aggressive push to keep Cohen in Sacramento by offering up a new contract, but in the end, he wanted to pursue the opportunity despite his love and deep appreciation for Sacramento. Dunivant walked me through how the last few days went down.

“We received interest in Josh from Haifa, and your immediate response is to clutch and hold on, because you don’t want to lose a player like Josh, but at the same time, [it’s] positive because he is being recognized for his hard work, the club is being recognized for producing and developing, and doing good things for our players,” said Dunivant. “It was not an easy week to say the least, but ultimately we felt like we explored every opportunity to try and keep him here. At the end of the day, Josh felt like it was such a good opportunity for him. We could have easily said, you’re our player, you’re under contract, [but] it was the right move to let Josh go. It’s a great opportunity for him.”

Cohen has been sensational for the Quails since his arrival in 2018. Last season, he was in many ways the club’s Most Valuable Player. He was second in the league in saves with 117, fifth in the league with 12 clean sheets, and posted a 0.94 percent goals-against average. On numerous occasions, Cohen either kept the Republic in the game or saved a win late to preserve three points. His efforts earned him runner up to USL Goalkeeper of the Year, even though in my mind, and in many others, he deserved the award.

As good as Cohen was on the pitch, he was equally good off it, and a tremendous influence and leader in the locker room. I have had the opportunity to talk to him on numerous occasions and he’s as genuine as they come. When I asked Dunivant if they were losing a key guy in the locker room, he did not downplay the influence he has had on the team and that they will miss his presence.

“No question. We can’t sugar coat that,” said Dunivant. “Josh is great on the field, but he’s also great off of it. He’s a locker room guy and about as unselfish as they come and a great teammate. He is somebody who looks out for the guys around him. No question that will be missed and he’s been a huge part of what we have done over the last year and half. Again, we’re delighted that he’s done so well that people around the world are watching, and I think that’s another good message for our players and fans that what we do here matters and that people take note of it.”

With the departure of Cohen, Rafael Diaz immediately steps into the role as goalkeeper for the Republic. He’s only made two starts this season, so fans haven’t seen a lot of him, but Dunivant believes that he’s a good shot stopper, good with his feet, has the experience needed and firmly ready to take on this opportunity. With experience, comes confidence, so Diaz is not going to be afraid to be vocal.

“Diaz has been behind a keeper who hasn't put a foot wrong for a year and a half,” said Dunivant. “But he’s challenged Josh and made him better. Fans don’t get to see that, but on a regular basis we do. We have a lot of confidence in Rafa and he’s going to be someone that continues to push us forward.”

The club is immediately looking for a replacement to backup Diaz and are pursuing options both in the short-term and long-term. An announcement on that front is likely soon. Republic Academy goalkeeper Diego Ramos might be on the shortlist.

In a conversation with Cohen this morning, he spoke about the difficult decision to leave his teammates and a club and city he has loves to play for, but one that he felt was the right move to advance his professional career.

“It’s extremely difficult because I have definitely found a home here with this club,” said Cohen. “It’s really easy to leave a bad situation, but it’s really hard to leave a good situation, which is what I have here. The fans, club and city itself...[it’s been] amazing. This opportunity kind of came out of nowhere and took me and my family by surprise.”

When I asked Josh what is the one thing he is most proud of during his time with the Republic, he was quick to credit the Republic and coaches on his development as a player. He was candid that when he came in, he didn’t fully understand the movements on the field, the need to make adjustments on the fly, how he needed to communicate forward from the back, and more. We have obviously seen that growth over the last year and half.

“As an individual, I think I am most proud of my growth in terms of understanding the game itself,” continued Cohen. This is really a testament to the coaches and really getting the players to actually think about the game, understand it, and read things in the moment.”

I had to ask him if Sacramento makes it to MLS, would he be open to coming back.

“100 percent yes,” said Cohen. “I’m confident that MLS is coming here, it’s not a question of if, but when. “I know fans have been hearing that, but I truly believe it. It’s definitely something I have in my sights. My goal right now is to make the most of this opportunity, try to take a step forward with my career, and improve as a goal keeper and person. If at the end of the day there is an opportunity for me to come back as a better, more experienced keeper, that would be fantastic.”