While San Antonio FC Head Coach Darren Powell and his staff continue to construct a roster for the 2019 season, two big pieces were added to the squad in the last week in defender Amer Didic and midfielder Jack Barmby. The two players might just be two key cogs in the San Antonio lineup in 2019, and they should excite fans with their arrival to the Alamo City. With all of the gifts that will be opened this December, Didic and Barmby might be the pick of the lot for fans of the beautiful game in San Antonio.
Didic, a 6-foot-4, 23-year-old center-back, has emerged as one of the premier defenders in the league over the last three seasons. He has amassed over 80 appearances and 6,000 minutes since 2016 with the Swope Park Rangers while also leading the club to two USL Cup Finals. His passing completion percentage is consistently in the high-80’s and low 90’s and his leadership and presence on and off the field have made him a significant addition to the SAFC back-line.
If there is one consistent element in the SAFC team over the past three seasons, it is the importance of the central defender position. San Antonio has received contributions from a number of strong players in those positions since the start of the club three years ago. MLS veteran Stephen McCarthy brought experience and leadership for three seasons; Sebastien Ibeagha turned in a USL Defender of the Year season in 2017; and Cyprian Hedrick made over 100 USL appearances, including 36 in the last two years with SAFC. Didic becomes the latest strong center-back to join the Alamo City club as he looks to continue the reputation that the team has built over the last three seasons.
“The foundation of our team is to make sure we defend and have our players understand the positions,” said Powell. “Didic has shown those skills over the past three years with the Swope Park Rangers. Hopefully he has good experiences from being on the fringes of MLS for the last couple of seasons, so he can help lead our back line this season.”
Didic himself will be no stranger to hard work. Born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Didic and his family moved to Canada to avoid the conflict when he was still a toddler. He impressed enough with his game to join the FC Edmonton academy before committing to play at Baker University in Baldwin City, KS. Following a successful college career, Didic went on trial with the Swope Park Rangers prior to the 2016 season, impressing once again to earn a contract. That season, he would go on to lead his team to a Western Conference championship while earning a spot on the USL All-League First Team.
“I think anybody that’s a pro has to have the basics of a work ethic,” Powell remarked. “They have to work hard every single day. We see sometimes when you have humble beginnings, there is an appreciation of what you have straight away. Didic certainly has that, coming from a different pathway than some other players. At the professional level, with every day and every opportunity you have you need to take advantage of it.
“Amer is familiar with the league and with the Western Conference and what comes with it, so we think that is also very valuable for us.”
It also seems that the admiration of Didic from the SAFC staff was mutual. Didic is excited to join San Antonio FC and become the next great center-back for the club, seeing how the club has operated on and off the field from the view of the opposition the last three seasons.
“I’m very thankful and excited to be a part of this organization,” Didic said when his signing was announced. “I’ve heard many great things about this club and seen first-hand in my experiences on the other side of the field. I can’t wait to get started and prepare for the upcoming season as we set our sights on silverware.”
“Jack is a player that has caught our eye since he joined Portland in 2016.”
Those words from Powell when Barmby’s signing was announced tell the story. The English midfielder is a creative attacking player that Powell hopes will break lines off the dribble and via his passing in the final third of the pitch.
“Jack is a traveled player who comes from a family with a good soccer history,” he said. “He’s a very professional player and he’s very focused on doing well. This opportunity gives him a chance to play first team football day in and day out. He has to earn that every day, but this is his chance to put a run of games together that hopefully can help him continue to improve his game.”
After spending the first part of his youth career with Hull City in England – a club that his father Nick played for and managed – Barmby joined the ranks at one of the most prestigious clubs in the world, Manchester United. It was at United where he signed his first pro contract before joining Hartlepool United on loan and impressing in League Two, scoring five goals in just 17 matches. His performances earned him a contract with the then newly promoted Leicester City in 2014 who were preparing for their first Premier League campaign since 2004.
While under contract with Leicester, Barmby continued impressing in loan spells, first with Championship side Rotherham and then with League Two outfit Notts County. His third loan spell under Leicester would bring him to the states. He joined the Portland Timbers in MLS in 2016 and went on to make 19 appearances there in his first season.
After remaining in Portland for three seasons and splitting his time between the MLS and USL clubs, Barmby decided to link up with SAFC for the 2019 USL Championship season. He is coming off a campaign where he was just one of 26 Western Conference players to record at least six goals and three assists, while leading Timbers 2 to the USL playoffs. Like Didic and his position of center-back, Barmby’s signing is a key piece of business of San Antonio as they approach the upcoming season. The club has had a wealth of high-performing attacking midfielders in their three-year history, and Barmby joins his new teammates Lance Laing and Walter Restrepo as the key creative pieces that are currently on the SAFC roster. Powell sees an opportunity for Barmby to shine in San Antonio and get a run of games under his belt.
“Jack has a good left foot,” he said. “He has good vision for the game. He can commit players off the dribble, he can make passes that break lines in the final third of the field. I think that’s what helps him be different from other players in the league. He has the ability to do it off the dribble and in the pass. He’s good on set pieces and has the ability to take corners and put them where he wants them.
“He can contribute to our team in several different positions, and we look forward to him helping us on the attacking side of the ball in 2019.”
The addition of both players is cause for excitement as we continue to grow nearer to the club’s fourth season in the USL. With the two signings, the SAFC roster currently sits at 11 as they join Matthew Cardone, Pascal Eboussi, Kai Greene, Pecka, Rafa Castillo, Ever Guzman, Alex Bruce, Lance Laing and Walter Restrepo.
With more signings arriving in the coming weeks, fans won’t have to wait long to continue watching the roster take shape prior to training camp. The fact remains however, the opening match against Phoenix Rising on March 9 at Toyota Field will feature some new faces potentially including these two important pieces. For now, fans can and should enjoy the news and the intent that these two signings bring as they open the rest of their gifts this holiday season.