Center back Roberto Puncec made his first Sporting Kansas City acquaintance roughly two months ago.
The 28-year-old center back had begun conversing with Sead Karaselimovic, one of Sporting’s talent identification directors tasked with scouting players across Europe.
As Karaselimovic told him more and more about Sporting—gushing over the fan base, facilities and growing standard of Major League Soccer—Puncec realized this was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.
“I said to my agent, ‘I want to go there. It’s finished. That’s it. I want to go,’” Puncec said during his first visit to Children’s Mercy Park earlier this month.
Touring the world-class stadium alongside newly acquired Mexican forward Alan Pulido, Puncec was blown away. The locker room, boot room, premium spaces and seating areas reminded him of the finest soccer venues in Europe. And while it was only his first impression, he was left with the feeling that he had made the right choice coming to MLS.
“Everything I saw here, with the facilities and everything, it was just crazy,” Puncec said. “I had never (seen) something like this in my life.”
Puncec will now aim to acclimate quickly to a Sporting side that hopes to improve across the board in 2020. Manager Peter Vermes led his team to a club-record eight straight playoff appearances from 2011-2018 before falling short last year. Puncec was added to the mix as someone tasked with shoring up a backline that allowed 67 regular season goals in 2019.
“I am a defender who hates to (allow) goals,” he said. “My style is aggressive, and I’m always going to put the team first.”
A native of Varazdin, Croatia, Puncec has amassed almost 300 professional appearances across 12 professional seasons in Croatia, Israel and Germany. He arrives in Kansas City after spending two and a half seasons with Croatian first-division club HNK Rijeka, where he won the 2019 Croatian Cup last May.
With this European experience comes undeniable pedigree—something that Puncec hopes translates well in MLS. At any rate, his excitement to play in front of the Children’s Mercy Park faithful for the first time is already sky-high.
“I heard the atmosphere here is very good, and when I see what (the stadium) looks like here, I am sure the fans are amazing.”
Puncec and Sporting will kick off the MLS regular season on Feb. 29 at Vancouver Whitecaps FC before hosting rivals Houston Dynamo in the club’s home opener on March 7.
The best way to guarantee tickets for 2020 home matches is to join the Sporting Kansas City family and become a Season Ticket Member. Several multi-game ticket packages for the 2020 campaign are also on sale, including the limited-time Home Opener Pack that bundles the game on March 7 with two flex matches. Single-game tickets for the first half of Sporting’s home schedule will go on sale to the general public in the near future.