Amer Didic, from Baker University, signs with Sporting KC

Amer Didic

Bosnian-born defender Amer Didic didn’t know if he was going to play collegiate soccer. Didic, a center back, had received little interest from college scouts while playing high school soccer in Edmonton, Alberta, and was considering the local Academy team as his best option.

However, Baker University coach Nate Houser visited a former coach and got a chance to see Didic’s skills before offering him a scholarship.

“In soccer, it’s kind of a small world,” said Houser, explaining that his coach from an All-Star game in the National Professional Soccer League, Ross Ongaro, was Didic’s high school coach.

“I had reconnected with Ross in 2009 when I saw him out recruiting in California,” he said. “I had kind of gone through the process of recruiting Canadian players, and Ross had me up to his school. He said ‘hey, we’ve got some really exciting players’.”

“Coach Houser was there for about a week and watched some games, then he offered me a scholarship,” Didic said. “It was kind of a last-minute decision to go to school. I was in the FC Edmonton Soccer Academy. I was probably going to keep playing there and see what happens, and develop a bit more there, but school was always something that I wanted to do.”

Other schools passed on Didic, perhaps thinking he lacked strength.

“Somehow, he hadn’t been taken yet,” Houser said. “He hadn’t been offered a scholarship down in the states. I was very fortunate.”

Houser believed Didic had a chance to become a force in the middle of the pitch.

“When I recruit, I always try to prognosticate ‘who’s he going to be as a junior?’” he said. “And with all the tools Amer already had it was: if we can help him with, on the physical side, just to grow into his body, I think it’s a no-brainer. It became an easy choice for me after watching him play for a couple of days.”

While at Baker, Didic grew into his 6-4, 195-pound frame just as Houser had anticipated as he transitioned to a dominating center back.

“When I watched him play up in Canada he was playing as a holding midfielder, and I am forever a huge Patrick Vieira (Arsenal) fan, and I’m trying to find a player who can sit in the midfield and be that big, strong, central presence,” Houser said. “That was my first idea with him.”

Didic had been playing center back in the Academy before going to Baker.

“I thought I could develop more and help the team more as a center back,” he said “Sophomore year is when I talked to coach Nate and said I’d really like to play center back on the defensive line.”

Houser was open to the suggestion.

“Of course, he took to it like a duck to water,” Houser said.

Didic blossomed at Baker, scoring 28 goals in 84 games for the Wildcats, earning two-time NAIA All-American honors and selected as a 2015 NSCAA All-American as a senior. He was also the Defensive Player of the Year and Heart of America Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player that season.

Didic, also, played in his first international setting when he was called up to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport roster for the 2015 Summer Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea.

“It was like a mini-Olympics,” he said. “That was a good experience. I definitely got my first taste of high-level soccer there. I got smacked around a little bit, but it was definitely a great learning experience.”

The next year, he was called up to Canada’s U-23 team for a trip to Qatar, where the team won both matches in shutouts.

“The city of Doha was magnificent,” Didic said. “I’d never seen anything like it.”

The experience helped him transition to the professional side as he signed to play with the Swope Park Rangers in 2016, and again the Baker connection played a part.

“Luckily I had contacts through the Sporting organization,” Didic said. “(Swope Park) was close. I thought it was a good way to get my feet wet. I was lucky enough to get a tryout at Swope Park.”

He made the most of his good fortune, earning USL All-League First Team honors and a chance to play with SKC in three CONCACAF matches.

The 22-year-old was signed to a Sporting contract at the end of May.

Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes has been impressed with Didic’s growth.

“He is someone who has made an incredible evolution in a short period of time,” he said. “He’s a very good defender with the ball at his feet and he’s incredibly agile for his size. I’m excited for Amer because not many people knew about him out of college, and I appreciate when players get rewarded for staying committed and going after their dream.”

Didic is devoted to improving and expanding his skillset.

“I try, in the off-season, to work on that a lot,” he said. “One of my key things in every off-season is to build and improve my agility and quickness, because size is going to be there. Quickness is something you can always improve on.

“The number one thing, from day one, going from high school to college, was instilling the work ethic that Nate and his coaching staff strive to implement throughout the team. It’s something that I have greatly evolved in how I do things every day, in practice and in games and day-to-day things. It’s just having that mental ability to go in everyday and work as hard as you can, because at the end of the day, that’s what you can control.”

Houser is proud of the opportunity to help Didic succeed.

“I’m really happy for Amer,” he said. “I think my dream as a former player is to pass on and actually prepare someone to achieve more than you were able to, and Amer is doing that. He got the call-up to the Canadian U-23s, and this opportunity with Sporting is just fantastic and I’m just so happy for him. But, he’s also a fantastic representative of all the players he played with in school. Because I think they helped his development. It wasn’t just Amer and it wasn’t just me. It was the 23 other guys on the team that were pushing him to continue to be better and to continue to grow.”

Didic is happy to extend the soccer dreams of his father, who was a soccer player in Bosnia when he was forced into a military academy at age 15 and had to give up the sport. The family immigrated to Canada when Amer was one year old.

“My dad grew up playing soccer,” Didic said. “He’s very passionate about it. He kind of pursued that passion through me.”

His father was overjoyed when Amer earned his Sporting role.

“He teared up,” he said. “I FaceTime’d him, so I could just see it. He tried to hide it but I know him well enough. My parents and my sister have been number one role models and influences with everything I’ve done so far, especially coming in from Bosnia with pretty much nothing.”

Didic is looking forward to his MLS debut.

“I’m just ready to go play,” he said. “I’m excited, but I just want to go play. I want to win. I want to do what I can to help the club win.”

Western Conference leader Sporting KC has a light July schedule with just four matches, three of them at Children’s Mercy Park.

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Article by Marc Bowman

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