Sporting Kansas City signed 28-year-old Croatian defender Roberto Puncec in December 2019. The center back has amassed almost 300 appearances across 12 professional seasons in Croatia, Israel and Germany. He arrives at Sporting after spending two and a half seasons with Croatian first-division club HNK Rijeka, where he won the 2019 Croatian Cup.
2020: Earned Sporting KC Defensive Player of the Year honors. MLS regular season: Started 18 of 20 appearances, contributed to seven clean sheets and recorded one assist (1,675 minutes played). Assisted a goal on his MLS and Sporting debut, setting up Alan Pulido's header in a 3-1 victory at Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Feb. 29. MLS is Back Tournament: Started five matches and contributed to two clean sheets (450 minutes played). MLS Cup Playoffs: Started two matches (210 minutes played). Played 120 minutes in the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Nov. 22, a 3-3 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes in which Sporting prevailed 3-0 on penalty kicks. Played 90 minutes in a 3-0 loss to Minnesota United in the Western Conference Semifinals on Dec. 3.
A native of Varazdin, Croatia, Puncec developed in the NK Varazdin academy and signed his first senior team contract in 2008 at age 16. He became a regular starter in 2009 and helped his hometown club secure a spot in 2011-12 UEFA Europa League qualifying before joining Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2011. His lone season in Israel yielded 23 total appearances, including five in the UEFA Europa League group stage.
In 2012, Puncec began a five-year stint with German side Union Berlin of the second-division 2. Bundesliga. The defender featured regularly during his time in the German capital, starting 118 of 128 appearances in all competitions as Union Berlin finished in the top half of the table in each of his five seasons with the club.
Puncec returned to his native Croatia in 2017, signing for HNK Rijeka. He anchored the club’s defense from 2017-2019, guiding Rijeka to consecutive second-place finishes in the Croatian First Football League and logging nine total appearances over the last three editions of UEFA Europa League qualifying.
Puncec propelled Rijeka to silverware in May 2019 as the Whites defeated Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb 3-1 in the Croatian Cup Final. He started every tournament match from the Round of 16 onward, including a 90-minute outing in the final.
As a youth, Puncec represented Croatia at the U-14 through U-21 levels and garnered significant experience in international competitions. He made five appearances at the 2010 UEFA European Under-19 Championship, leading Croatia to the semifinals, then played all three games at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia. Puncec also featured in qualifying matches for the 2011 and 2013 editions of the UEFA Under-21 Championship.