By Charles Vanegas
When Marko Miketic was trying to decide what to do after one year at the University of Toronto, his friend and three-time Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) All-Canadian, Alex Braletic, pushed hard for him to join the Rams.
“Come to Ryerson, come to Ryerson, come to Ryerson,” Braletic says he told him. “The school is amazing. The team is unbelievable, the boys are unbelievable. You won’t regret coming here.”
Miketic, 19, grew up watching Braletic’s games and would practice with him in the backyard. Miketic’s parents, Ranko and Svetlana, had grown up with Braletic’s in Montenegro, before moving next door to them in Thornhill, Ont.
Miketic enrolled at Ryerson, but was required to sit out the 2013 season due to OUA transfer rules.
He agreed to serve as the team’s equipment manager, but that year would prove to be the most trying time of his career. Prior to the season Miketic suffered a torn groin, an injury he had suffered before as a 17-year-old.
His familiarity with Braletic, associate coach Filip Prostran – also a family friend – and former Thornhill Secondary School teammate Josh Kohn made it easier for him to develop chemistry with the group off the field. But the injury continued to make him feel isolated from the team. Sitting out was hard and being hurt made it worse.
“I thought I had been playing my best soccer before it happened,” says Miketic. “It was a difficult time, wanting to be a part of something and not be able to contribute.”
With Miketic on the sideline, the Rams went undefeated in the regular season and finished seventh at the CIS National Championships – the best finish in team history – with Braletic being named CIS MVP. While unhappy to be kept watching, the team’s success improved Miketic’s commitment to the program. Losing five starters, there was playing time to be had on a team with championship aspirations that still retained a strong core with three OUA all-stars, including Christian Maraldo, the top goalkeeper in the province.
“It was a tough first year for Marko … as much as he loves soccer, it was hard for him to love being a Ram his first season,” says head coach Ivan Joseph. “[But] I think what happened was that he had such a long time off that he realized that with this team and what we’re trying to do, he could be an important part of it.”
After seeing a specialist, Miketic learned the cause of his groin woes – one of his legs was a bit longer than the other. Now with custom insoles, he was able to focus on his physiotherapy – and his psyche.
In addition to working with head athletic therapist Jerome Camacho and women’s assistant coach Tina Cook, Miketic credits sessions with Ryerson Athletics’ sports psychologist, Dr. Leith Drury, as the secret to his recovery.
“Bouncing back from an injury is always tough but [Drury] has been there anytime I needed her and I can just talk to her about things,” says Miketic. “It’s a long process coming back but those people have made it extremely worthwhile and I definitely respect them on a whole other level. I still go to see them every day.”
Fully healed, Marko looked to return to the field with the Rams in the summer, but was shown no favour by the coaching staff for his role the previous year.
“He wasn’t even invited to [play in the] preseason. He had to come in and earn it from open tryouts,” says Prostran. “Yeah he’s a good player and yeah he’s got great vision and great work ethic, but the number one thing was him buying into our program – not thinking “oh I’m a transfer, I’m going to play right away.”
After a strong performance at tryouts and a positional switch, he started the first eight games – all wins – and leads the team in scoring with four goals. The Rams, with their 8-0-0 record, are first in the OUA east and are ranked third in the country.
“I think [being equipment manager] really did help … he has so much team chemistry with the guys that it looks like they’ve been playing together for five years.
That was key – I’m really happy he chose to be [equipment] manager last year,” says Braletic, now an assistant coach with the team. “Now he’s playing in the middle and doing a hell of a job.”
Miketic is one of several Rams able to speak fluent Serbian. While using Serbian is banned from practice, it’s something the team uses to its advantage in games.
“It’s code. That’s how Fil likes to describe it,” says Miketic. “If he tells me something in Serbian then maybe I can say something to a teammate, like if we can find a weakness on the other team.”
Miketic is notably bald, having developed alopecia areata – a condition that causes hair loss, often spreading to the entire body – in the fifth grade. He says that while many go through a rough time with alopecia, he has rarely been affected negatively due to his condition.
“I grew up with such a good supporting cast. No one cared. I started getting patches [of hair loss] and my mom said, ‘why don’t you get a buzz cut,’ and I said, ‘yeah, that looks pretty cool, why not?’ You kind of go day-byday, less hair, less hair, and then eventually it just becomes second nature. I don’t have hair, you have hair, so what?”
Instead, his focus is on the team’s ultimate goal: a championship.
“Making that national berth was huge for the program. Those guys [who were on last year’s team] come into practice really intense and other guys look at them like ‘this is the level we need to be at,'” says Miketic. “At Ryerson you’re always competing … every practice we’re just competing for a spot.”