Baker alumnus Amer Didic lays out his cleats in the living room by the door. It’s Saturday night, and while other 20-somethings may be spending the week’s paycheck out on the town, Didic stares at an empty suitcase. In just two days, Didic and his suitcase will be on a plane to Tucson, Arizona, where he will begin preseason training with Sporting Kansas City players and a select few Swope Park Rangers players. Didic was in a very different situation at this time last year.
Before Didic’s 2016 debut in the United Soccer League, he played soccer for four years at Baker University. In his last season with Baker, he helped lead the team to a 2015 Heart of America Athletic Conference regular season championship. He was named Heart MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Didic was also named a First-Team NAIA All-American. Didic was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina but grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. He represented Canada in the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea, in the summer of 2015.
As a trialist for the first year of Sporting KC’s USL affiliate, the Swope Park Rangers, Didic had to earn a contract before he could even think about a full season or what he expected to achieve on a team.
“It was a weird season for me, because I came into preseason as a trialist, obviously, and we went over to Tucson (for) the second leg of the Desert Diamond Cup. I knew I had nothing to lose because I was on trial,” Didic said.
Being from a small university, Didic needed to prove he deserved a permanent spot on the roster. Sporting KC Communications and Digital Lead Patrik Bergabo covered all of the Swope Park Rangers’ news and media for their first season and was one of the people who was originally skeptical of Didic having a future with Swope.
“I’d seen a list of names of guys we were bringing on trial and some of them coming from other clubs I’ve heard of, some coming over from Europe, and then there was a couple guys like Amer, coming from small schools that most people had never heard of,” Bergabo said. “So I didn’t really expect much when I was watching him in the first few weeks of preseason, but he was excellent from the start.”
In Didic’s first preseason game, Swope defeated the Colorado Rapids, an MLS team, 3-1. It was Didic’s first opportunity to change people’s minds about a guy from a small school.
“He came on at halftime and he just absolutely stuffed just any forward on the Rapids team that was trying to get by him,” Bergabo said. “Just immediately, I was like, this guy has some potential.”
Coming back to Kansas City, Didic felt confident that he was a likely choice to become a starter for Swope Park, especially after being offered a contract on March 2. SPR had two more exhibition games before the start of the season, and Didic played roles in both, some better than others.
“I started against Rockhurst and scored a goal,” Didic said. “The next week, we played Creighton, and I remember I played a ball out of the back. I couldn’t see the opposition behind. Gave it right to him, (and) they went in and scored. So it was pretty much me giving away the ball and saying, ‘The net is over there.’ They go and score, so here we go. I just blew it.”
Didic believes that mistake cost him a starting spot at the beginning of the season. However, as the schedule progressed and game after game went by without a starting position, Didic remained positive.
“Five games go by and I’m angry, but I’m still positive,” Didic said. “I just keep working, because that’s all you can control.”
Didic said he needed to build some trust between himself and the players and coaches, and playing in games can help build that trust. By the end of the season, Didic said he and head coach Marc dos Santos had become good friends and he felt a “dramatic improvement” in his relationship with the coaches.
Didic also made a lasting impression on his teammates.
“I think in teams there’s always going to be some friction with players, and he just never really had that with anybody,” Bergabo said. “He was kind of one of the universally well-liked people on the team, so I think that kind of made him stand out personality-wise, that he just managed to make friends with everybody, and everybody liked being around him.”
The Swope Park Rangers team captain, Christian Duke, said that Didic play a “vital role” in the success of the team.
“He was a brick wall in our back line,” Duke said. “(He’s) a beast in the air and clinical with the ball at his feet. He developed and grew as a player and a professional as the season went along, which allowed the team to grow as well.”
Didic’s first start for the club came in a 2-1 win over Tulsa Roughnecks FC. He eventually made 31 appearances in his rookie season for the Swope Park Rangers and was named to the USL Team of the Week a league-high six times. In the Rangers’ first year in the USL, the team advanced to the USL Cup Final in New York. Didic played every minute of the postseason run.
Didic earned his first professional goal in the last regular-season game for the Rangers. This goal helped the team take a 2-0 win over Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Sept. 24.
“It was actually very fitting that he scored his first goal on our last regular-season game, just kind of get that hump out of the way, because he hit the crossbar like four of five times throughout the year,” Bergabo said. “You kind of saw the rest of the team, the way they reacted when he scored, the entire team ran out and surrounded him. Everyone was so happy for him, and that kind of proves how well-liked he was on the team.”
Didic was the first Swope Park player to be called up to play for Sporting KC. He made his SKC debut in a CONCACAF Champions League draw against Central FC on Aug. 16 in Trinidad and Tobago. Didic went on to play in two more CONCACAF matches, both against Vancouver.
While Didic enjoyed the time spent traveling to new locations, he also felt fortunate to be able to play so close to home. Swope Park is in Kansas City, Missouri, just 50 miles from the BU campus. During the season, many of Didic’s old teammates from the Baker soccer program came to cheer him on.
“There’s lots of times where I’d see familiar faces in the stands, and after the games I’d see some old Baker teammates some of the coaches, both from the women’s side and the men’s side,” Didic said. “It’s definitely nice playing in front of people in Kansas City that you don’t know, but it makes it that much better when there are people that you’re close with and can share that experience with.”
Didic’s goal last year as a trialist was to make an impression and earn a contract for the 2016 season. Now he is one of the six Swope Park players returning for the 2017 USL season.
This year, he is focused on new aspirations and expectations for himself and the season. Ultimately, he hopes to sign a contract with Sporting KC.
“My number one goal is to make that jump and sign a contract,” Didic said.