Sporting Kansas City has signed 28-year-old Croatian defender Roberto Puncec, the club announced today. Puncec has inked a two-year MLS contract through 2021 with an option for 2022. He will occupy an international spot on Sporting’s roster pending receipt of his International Transfer Certificate and P1 visa.
Puncec has amassed almost 300 professional appearances across 12 professional seasons in Croatia, Israel and Germany. The center back arrives at Sporting after spending the last two and a half seasons with Croatian first-division club HNK Rijeka, where he won the 2019 Croatian Cup this spring.
“Roberto has significant experience playing in Europe over the last several years,” Sporting Kansas City Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes said. “He is very excited to be here and we look forward to him integrating into our club and our city.”
A native of Varazdin, Croatia, Puncec developed in the NK Varazdin academy and signed his first senior team contract in 2008 at age 16. He became a regular starter in 2009 and helped his hometown club secure a spot in 2011-12 UEFA Europa League qualifying before joining Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2011. His lone season in Israel yielded 23 total appearances, including five in the UEFA Europa League group stage.
In 2012, Puncec began a five-year stint with German side Union Berlin of the second-division 2. Bundesliga. The defender featured regularly during his time in the German capital, starting 118 of 128 appearances in all competitions as Union Berlin finished in the top half of the table in each of his five seasons with the club.
Puncec returned to his native Croatia in 2017, signing for HNK Rijeka. He anchored the club’s defense from 2017-2019, guiding Rijeka to consecutive second-place finishes in the Croatian First Football League and logging nine total appearances over the last three editions of UEFA Europa League qualifying.
Puncec propelled Rijeka to silverware in May as the Whites defeated Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb 3-1 in the Croatian Cup Final. He started every tournament match from the Round of 16 onward, including a 90-minute outing in the final. Prior to making his jump to Major League Soccer, Puncec started nine league matches this fall and scored twice for Rijeka in a Croatian Cup first round win over Buje.
As a youth, Puncec represented Croatia at the U-14 through U-21 levels and garnered significant experience in international competitions. He made five appearances at the 2010 UEFA European Under-19 Championship, leading Croatia to the semifinals, then played all three games at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia. Puncec also featured in qualifying matches for the 2011 and 2013 editions of the UEFA Under-21 Championship.
Transaction: Sporting Kansas City (MLS) signs defender Roberto Puncec.
Weight: 176 lbs.
Birthplace: Varazdin, Croatia
Hometown: Varazdin, Croatia
Previous club: HNK Rijeka (Croatia)