Of the several international signings Oliver Wyss made for the Orange County Blues in 2015, midfielder Luka Petricevic was arguably the most consistent player during the season.
Petricevic, a Montenegrin youth international, clearly needed a change of scenery and after spending his career to date in Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, he made the jump to sunny California and joined the Blues.
What's interesting is that Petricevic's main job was to play as a defensive midfielder, shielding the defense and freeing up some of the attackers to do less of the dirty work in defense, and his skill set showed that, no question. But he seemed at times to be more of a box-to-box presence in many games, moving up into the attack as a support option. But in looking at the stats...hmmm, not so much.
Here were Petricevic's statistics in 2015:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|USL Regular Season||21||21||1,694||1||0||13||5||5||2|
|U.S. Open Cup||1||1||90||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Obviously these are basic statistics and not advanced analytics, but these pretty clearly show that Petricevic was a pretty typical d-mid. Sure, he may have had a few shots during the season and scored a goal, but he wasn't afraid to pick up a yellow card and was co-leader on the team in reds with two, and led his squad by a long shot in fouls committed, with 45 (the next closest players had 24 for the season). While he may have had more freedom to play box-to-box game to game depending on who else was playing in midfield, it's pretty obvious that Petricevic had a clear role and stuck to that for the most part.
And defensive midfield is a real "under the radar" position, especially in a league like USL where scorers and goalkeepers tend to get the lion's share of recognition. Petricevic's consistency set the tone for his team in 2015, and he was clearly a player with Wyss' trust from day one and through the end of the season. He may have not had the silky well-rounded game that Didier Crettenand has, or the eye-popping speed and skill that Denzel Slager showed off at times, but Petricevic did the proverbial dirty work to give those players, and others, more of the spotlight. And based on the Blues' performance, finishing atop the Western Conference, the formula worked, and the Montenegrin played a big role in that success.
Still just 23, Petricevic still has some developing to do, but he certainly showed his worth to his new team. Of course, the question is whether he'll be back in 2016 with OC. Given the addition of domestic players Ryan Felix and Milton Blanco midseason, and the likely options he may have closer to home, it's no guarantee he'll return. I certainly think he's better than USL replacement level at d-mid, but I also would understand the external circumstances that could prevent his return. In spite of all that, I think Petricevic, who was well liked, would be great as a returning player in 2016, and could push the Blues on as they try to get even better. Time will tell, however.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!