Last month, I got a phone call that would eventually change the lives of many people. It was a phone call that wasn’t expected.
I was at work when Utica City GM Tommy Tanner texted me asking if I was free for a minute to talk. And when Tommy asks me that, I’m always more than willing to drop whatever I’m doing to answer. Maybe it was him asking if I wanted to suit up for the team. Maybe it was another huge signing he wanted to tell me about. Instead it was a trade that was taking place. It was a trade of a player who had been instrumental in bringing indoor soccer to Central New York. It was a trade of Slavisa Ubiparipovic to the San Diego Sockers.
I was stunned. I knew the fans of Utica would be stunned as well once the announcement was made. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had time to reflect on what has transpired, and I feel like I can put into words what this means to me.
Let’s rewind back to February 10th, a home game between Utica City and the Mississauga MetroStars. The game was a blowout, a 13-5 victory for the boys in blue, but what happened before the game was huge at the time. Slavisa signed a two-year deal to stay in Utica. The fans were on their feet clapping for him as he signed the contract. Utica fans were excited about the next two years having number 99 in their arena, helping this franchise to a Ron Newman Cup title. Over the next few months, Utica made some incredible signings, and in the back of my mind, I knew that this team was going to be something special.
Now, flash forward to Tanner’s call. I was told that Slav had an offer that he couldn’t refuse in San Diego, and wanted to play for the Sockers. Do I blame him? Absolutely not. If it’s something that is going to further his life as a person, and a player, by all means, follow your dreams.
I’m going to throw this theory out there, and that’s all it is, a theory. During the 2019 WMF World Cup, he played alongside quite a few players from the Sockers, and Sockers coach Phil Salvagio also coaches the national team. He theoretically saw what he liked in Slav, and wanted him to come play in San Diego. Who knows what the “offer he couldn’t refuse” was; maybe it was a promise of a warm winter in San Diego, maybe it was the prospect of a better chance of winning a title there, maybe it was money, who knows?
All I know is, a person who was one of the pillars of this team, no longer wanted to play here. I understand why fans of Utica would be upset, but think of how fans of the erstwhile Silver Knights are feeling. He practically watched both of my kids grow up in the eight years he played for Syracuse and Utica. He knew them by name. After every game, he would come over and say hi to everyone. I’ve told this story before, but it’s worth repeating: My daughter Hannah missed a game a couple of years ago, because she wasn’t feeling well. I went to the game (as I would never miss a game), and afterwards, Slav asked where everyone was. I FaceTimed Hannah, so she could maybe say hello to the team as they went around after every game. Slav actually stopped and talked to her for a minute, giving her a hard time that she wasn’t there because she was sleeping. Unfortunately, that will never happen again.
This kind of thing happens in professional sports all the time. Players move from one team to another, in the hopes of greener pastures. It never really hits close to home, since players on the teams you root for make quite a bit more money than these guys.
Indoor soccer is geared towards families. Slav is family, and always will be. I wish him the best of luck in San Diego, and I know he will make an impact, both on and off the field. But, as a fan of Utica City, I’m very excited about the arrival of Christian Segura, who comes to Utica in the trade. From what I’ve read, he’s also very excited about playing in a sold out Adirondack Bank Center, and helping City make a championship run. And after watching him play in Sonora and San Diego the last few years, I know Utica will give him the warmest of welcomes.
To Slav, thank you. Thank you for being one of the reasons why I got involved in this sport. Thank you for being a great role model for the kids. Thank you for sharing your talents with the masses here in Central New York. Our paths will cross again I’m sure. Until then, stay warm!