Recently surging Rochester FC hopes it can make a run
The Rochester FC men's soccer team begins play in the United Premier Soccer League Midwest Regional postseason tournament on Saturday.
If only this were the beginning of the season instead of near its end.
That is the thinking of the Rochester FC men’s soccer team, a bunch that needed until the last few weeks to find itself.
But there is also good news. Rochester FC begins its United Premier Soccer League Midwest Regional postseason tournament on Saturday, hosting Turbo Sport at 7 p.m. at Rochester Regional Stadium. A win there would pit it against the Milwaukee Barbarians on July 17, in Milwaukee.
So, it is not too late to make a run, and it just might. Rochester FC takes a record of 2 wins, 1 tie and 5 losses into the first round, but it has played infinitely better of late, with two wins and a tie in its last three games.
Most recently, it tied Dakota Youngstars 2-2, then beat Flora FC 2-0 and Turbo Sport 3-2.
“We are playing better than we have all season,” said Rochester FC player and co-owner Midhat Mujic. “Coach (Muharem Dedic) said if the season started now, with the way we’re playing, we’d be on top of the league.”
It’s a team that has not only begun to come together, but has also benefited from a recent change in alignment, one that emphasizes defense.
Dedic believes that all of that has mattered down the stretch.
“I wish the season could have started a couple of weeks ago,” said Dedic, whose team is in its third year of existence, though last season never happened due to the COVID 19 pandemic. “Now, we have clicked. It took awhile with such a young squad to get to the level we are now and to develop chemistry. I want our guys to keep winning. You start winning games and sometimes it’s hard to stop a winning streak.”
One of the biggest individual influences down the stretch has been Rochester FC’s oldest player, Rafael Sierra. Sierra, in his 40s and a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon, missed much of the season due to an injury. But he is back now and playing like a surgeon, with his usual precision and smarts.
Sierra has influenced the entire team with his approach and wise leadership. That’s been especially crucial with this group, with so many of its players either freshly out of high school, or still in it.
“We’d been missing his leadership on the defending side,” Mujic said. “Now, he is guiding our guys where to be. He is a good leader and a dad, so he knows where players need to be and what they need to do.”
Mujic said that Rochester FC has also benefited by moving Brendan Koplin from midfield to center defender, and the increased roles of Sam Bailey and Brandon Lopez in the midfield.
Besides playing smarter, Mujic also hopes that his team continues a recent trend of playing harder. He says many of the Rochester FC have had to adjust to the pace and physicality of the National Premier Soccer League, with its older, bigger and stronger players. Fighting back has been crucial as the season has worn on.
“It takes a while to adjust to the aggressiveness of the league,” Mujic said. “Where our players have come from, they’re not used to playing against physical players. It’s taken a lot of our guys by surprise. But what we’ve done in our last two games has been good. We’ve been playing with a lot more heart.”