The Fourth of July is always a joyous occasion, but this year, Republic FC fans will have extra cause for celebration.
On Tuesday, the club welcomed back Emrah Klimenta for his fifth season in Sacramento, making him the only player in Republic FC history to have worn the Old Glory Red every season since the club’s inception in 2014.
It’s fitting that his return would coincide with the anniversary of the birth of the American Dream—that innate belief that with enough work, grit and perseverance, you can elevate yourself to great heights, regardless of your background or circumstances.
Born in Rozaje, Montenegro, Klimenta’s road to becoming the all-time appearances leader for Republic FC was filled with obstacles from the outset and a footballing career was never a foregone conclusion.
At the age of four, Klimenta and his family fled what was then the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia to escape the growing unrest that had led to civil war and the breakup of the socialist state. After a brief period in Germany, the family moved to the United States thanks to a refugee resettlement program and made their home in Walnut Creek, California.
Klimenta showed promise in the sport from a young age, graduating early from high school and skipping college soccer to play in Europe as a teenager. He spent nearly two years playing in the youth teams of the Bundesliga’s FC Ingolstadt 04, but Klimenta’s dreams of playing professional soccer took a hit when he suffered a severe knee injury during a tryout with a Turkish team.
The setback forced Klimenta to return home and contemplate his future. Frustrated by his situation, he was on the verge of permanently hanging up his cleats when he heard about Republic FC’s open tryouts ahead of their inaugural season. Klimenta made the trip to Davis to make a case for himself under the discerning eyes of Coach Preki.
The rest, as they say, is history in the making.
Klimenta became a fixture in Republic FC’s starting XI, going on to lead the club in all-time appearances (119), starts (112) and minutes played (10,115). His nine goals and six assists in USL play place him in the all-time top five of both categories for the club. In that time, Klimenta also received his first call-up to the Montenegro National Team and went on to represent his native country five additional times.
But even from the start, Klimenta’s journey with Republic FC was not without its hurdles.
Though he became known for his surging runs down the right wing as a fullback, Klimenta originally tried out as a midfielder and had to adapt to his game to a position he’d never played before in order to be part of the team.
Then, in 2016, Klimenta tore his ACL during a home match against Seattle Sounders FC 2. The injury occurred during his best moment as a professional player and put him on the sidelines for months. But with the same indomitable spirit he’d shown before, Klimenta came back stronger than ever, captaining his team to their fourth consecutive playoffs appearance.
The defender’s performances caught the eye of Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy who signed Klimenta to a contract ahead of the 2018 season. There, Klimenta played alongside international superstars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Dos Santos brothers and Romain Alessandrini.
Although, his brief time in Los Angeles may not have turned out exactly as he hoped, Klimenta is grateful for the experience and is glad to be back in Sacramento.
“I couldn’t be more happy to be back,” he said during his re-introductory press conference. “There’s no place I’d rather be. This is home. It has been for the past four years and hopefully it’ll be for more.”
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