Nick Mijatovic went to practice with his Rochester teammates Wednesday morning, expecting to leave later that day for the Lancers' North American Soccer League opener at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
If broken English, Mijatovic, 32, who shared 1979 NASL defensive player of the year honors, recalled his reception by Coach Ray Klivecka:
"Here is one bad news, one good. Bad news is because we need you as a player and an assistant coach, too. But, it's good for you because it's a bigger team, a much bigger town, much better for you." Mijatovic had been sold to Washington.
The Lancers needed cash. They received less than $100,000, after asking $250,000 for the Yugoslav star three weeks ago. And because Mijatovic wanted to play for a contender and has friends on the Washington team, the Dips will go into Sunday's home opener against Philadelphia with their defense, unsettled by injuries to three starters, somewhat shored up.
"I feel very good to play again, because I am hungry to play again after so much practice," Mijatovic said yesterday after his first workout with the Dips.
"You have to adjust," Mijatovic added. "That's normal, it takes a little time. But today, the first time, I feel very friendly with the players because I know a lot of them here."
Mijatovic will play center back Sunday. He is a stopper, a man who in past seasons marked the opponents' best offensive player, whether it was Johan Cruyff or Chinaglia or Alan Green.
"My role here? You probably know better than me. They have problems with injured players," Mijatovic said. "I will play that position (center back), but maybe tomorrow coach wants something else and sees something. I will help. I am a pro soccer player. I must do what coach wants at time."
That, according to Mike Menchel, the Lancers' director of operations, is no put-on. Menchel has experience in pro soccer, pro hockey and pro football.
"He's one of the few athletes I've ever been associated with you can't say anything negative about," Manchel said. "He takes practice as seriously as games."
Menchel was amazed that another Lancer official called Mijatovic "in the twilight of his career."
"He's not over the hill," Menchel said. "He has three of four solid years ahead of him."
At 32, Mijatovic is still a most durable player. He said he never missed a game in Yugoslavia because of injury. In four years at Rochester, he sat out only nine games because of injury and otherwise played every minute of every game.
"Somebody said 30 years old is old for soccer," Mijatovic said. "This is very relative. I don't drink, don't smoke and I feel very good. Some are old at 25 and don't like practice. But I like practice. And I like sports because sports is my whole life. I feel like playing five years, eight years more."
And here, he probably will receive a small raise in his estimated $50,000 salary.
"Money," he said, "is important, but not just money. Washington has a stronger team. This team, this year, must be one of the best. They buy stars in Europe. It must be a very, very good team this year."