Rookie defender Nikola Paunic joined the Orange County Blues in June, brought in to bolster the team's depth. All in all, he did just that, finding some spot duty in the middle of the season on the field.
Paunic was one of a handful of Blues players this year with MLS "ties" of a sort. Coming off two years spent at South Florida, the Montenegrin-born Bosnian grew up in Canada and spent some time before college in Toronto FC's academy. In January, he was drafted by another Canadian MLS team, the Vancouver Whitecaps, but did not end up signing with the team, before eventually joining the Blues.
Despite playing four years of college soccer and a year in the pros, Paunic remains fairly young at 22, and it seems like he's most likely a prospect in many respects.
Here are Paunic's statistics from 2015:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|USL Regular Season||4||2||244||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Unfortunately for Paunic, his appearances corresponded with a 0-3-1 record for the Blues, as they were in the midst of their roughest stretch of the season. Obviously, he was not solely responsible for the 10 goals conceded in those four games, but with Orange County head coach Oliver Wyss tinkering with his core lineup to see which combinations worked the best, it's safe to say Paunic wasn't quite ready for major minutes.
But it may be a matter of the Canadian youth international getting his sea legs in the pro game, work on some elements of his game, and then come back that much more competitive in 2016. Again, given the rough nature of those games he did feature in, you can't really say he covered himself in glory, but I don't recall watching him be the only reason the team was shipping goals at that point. They were going through considerable adversity, and Wyss eventually settled on a winning combination, both on the backline and throughout the lineup. Unfortunately for the rookie, he was not in that mix.
So Paunic had a cup of coffee with the Blues. Will that result in another chance next season? That's the question for 2016.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!