After a 3-1 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf earlier this month, players and supporters of Union Berlin gave longtime midfielder and vice-captain Damir Kreilach a hero’s sendoff.
Kreilach had watched the match from the suite level with the club’s owner, but was invited down to the field for a celebratory lap with his now-former teammates. With the fans in the stands cheering for him, the players surrounded him, tossed him into the air and caught him in a show of respect and support.
For four-and-a-half seasons, he had given everything to the club. And now he was given an opportunity to further pursue his dreams as a professional soccer player. Those in attendance could not have been happier for him.
“I had a very good relationship with the fans and the people that work with the club – teammates, coaches, everybody in the club,” Kreilach said. “It was a really special moment.”
Kreilach had spent four-and-a-half seasons with the German club before deciding to move to the U.S. to play with Real Salt Lake and while it was never an easy decision, having the support of his fans and teammates in Berlin confirmed for the 28-year-old Croatian that he was making the right decision.
It was just the second club he had played with in his 10 years as a professional, starting his career with Rijeka in his native Croatia. Both clubs in Europe and Real Salt Lake all share a common theme among them – that the team is like a family. So while it was a difficult decision to leave Rijeka and then five years later Union Berlin, he did so with confidence knowing that he could hit the ground running in a welcome environment, too.
“It was very difficult. I played my whole career for only two teams. Rijeka in Croatia was a family club and I had a great opportunity to go to Germany and play for a big club like Union Berlin that is also a family club,” he said in English that is better than he thinks, but not as good as he’d like. “Now I come here and Real Salt Lake is also a family club. That makes me very proud.”
In Utah, Kreilach will add some punch and depth to the midfield. A box-to-box player with abilities to add both in defense and in the attack, he is a regular contributor in the goal column, having plucked 52 goals in 277 career matches in Croatia and Germany. That included a stretch of three seasons that saw him score 28 goals in 98 matches from 2013-2017 for Union Berlin.
Quiet but jovial off the field, he is no-nonsense between the lines and that earned him the captaincy with both of his former clubs.
Now he is hoping to add similar qualities with Real Salt Lake. Meeting with his teammates for the first time on Wednesday, he already knows the expectations in place after a stellar final four months to the 2017 season.
“I know the second half of last season was great. We need to keep that positive feeling this year and I’m sure we can do something special,” he said. “I am very happy to be here with the team. I’m very excited and I can’t wait to play for Real Salt Lake.”