A Good Debut

Mikulic talks moving to MLS, looks forward to Opening Day

 

Coming off his MLS debut in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at FC
Dallas, Croatian defender Josip Mikulic , 24,was surprised to hear a number of
people giving  him “Man of the Match”
honors.

“Really? Who?,” he asked.

Off the top of my head, I couldn’t remember, but looking
back, readers of Guillermo Rivera’s Fire Confidential blog voted him second
behind Uruguayan striker Gaston Puerari. Every mention of Mikulic in post-match
reports was positive.

Perhaps it’s more a quiet consensus on “Man of the Match”?

Either way, the Croatian’s debut Saturday ushered in what
has been a long year for the 6-2 defender, one in which he didn’t get paid by
his former club, NK Zagreb and had to go to court to gain a release from his
contract.

“NK Zagreb is in a very difficult situation,” he said. “The
league in Croatia isn’t good like it is here. They don’t pay players and that
is a big problem throughout Eastern Europe. I was happy on Saturday night,
especially at the beginning of the match because of how many people were in
Dallas. Back home I only played in front of 5,000 people so that was a nice
difference.”

Before Fire fans start crack a joke about the attendance in
Dallas, re-read the last line of that quote.

Mikulic’s identification came like it does for a lot of
players, when his agent sent a highlight DVD of him playing to Fire Technical
Director Frank Klopas last year. Klopas joined Carlos de los Cobos on a
two-week trip to Europe last November to look at a number of players and the
Bosnian-born Croatian defender was high on their list as they looked to rebuild
an almost completely different back line.

“When coach and Frank came to Europe they came to see me in
Zagreb,” he said. “We started having conversations and they called with a
contract not too long after.”

Mikulic officially signed with the club on January 6,
joining third-year Fire midfielder Baggio Husidic (Bosnia) and second-year
midfielder Bratislav Ristic (Serbia) as the third player from the former
Yugoslavia on the Fire roster. The trio then welcomed a fourth when another
Croatian, midfielder Marko Maric joined from Greek club Skoda Xanthi.

Both Mikulic and Maric came up through the youth system at
NK Zagreb.

An intimidating force in the back, Mikulic seems the prototypical
player from Eastern Europe: Good fundamentals, steady on the ball, great size
and a strong knowledge of the game, all of which have been helpful in being the
director of the team’s new three-man backline which features also features
veteran U.S. international Cory Gibbs and first round draft pick Jalil Anibaba.

“I feel the partnership with Cory and Jalil has been
excellent so far. We have a good understanding of each other and have come
together well.”

Though having gained a valuable road point at the home of
last season’s MLS Cup finalists, Mikulic still looks at his first MLS match
with some regret.

“I think we must still win that game. We had better chances
overall, we made one mistake and gave up a goal, but we were also up a man for
35 minutes. Diego [Chaves] had another chance, Gaston [Puerari] had an
opportunity and I had a chance in the last minute from a corner kick. I’m glad
to get a point, but we feel we should have won.”

As the team returns to Toyota Park for Saturday’s Opening
Day match vs. Sporting KC, Mikulic is among 12 newcomers on the roster that
will hope to make their home debut. Unless injury pops up, the defensive trio
featuring him, Gibbs and Anibaba is one of the most certain pieces in de los
Cobos’ lineup.

“I hope that the stadium is full and I hope that we win, I
know Section 8 will be there supporting us and I’m looking forward to playing
in front of them and the people of Chicago for the first time.”

Jeff Crandall is the Team
Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter
@JefeCrandall

Get out to TOYOTA PARK
to watch Josip Mikulic make his home debut this Saturday, March 26 at 3pm CT as
the Fire host Mexican international Omar Bravo Sporting KC at TOYOTA PARK.
Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased by calling 888.MLS.FIRE or by
clicking
here
.