Marko Maric - Houston Dynamo
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Marko Maric joined the Houston Dynamo to come to a "big league"

As a big fan of the NBA, Marko Maric instinctively thought of the Rockets when asked if he knew much about Houston before joining the Dynamo

It's no surprise then that when the former Croatian youth international goalkeeper arrived in H-town this winter, with his body confused by the heat in February – a stark difference from his previous homes in Austria, Germany and Poland – he quickly familiarized himself with the Toyota Center to see the Rockets in action.

Led by superstar (and Dynamo minority owner) James Harden, the Rockets thoroughly entertained Maric in the few games he attended with teammate Kiki Struna before COVID-19 shut down the sports world. The first game he got to see, the Rockets hosted the Utah Jazz in February and it came down to the wire. Maric's countryman Bojan Bogdanovic hit a buzzer-beating three to seal a 114-113 win for the Jazz. 

"Of course the guy from Croatia scored the last points for the Jazz," Maric told MLSsoccer.com this week. "It was a great first game."

But Maric didn't come to Houston just because of the Dynamo's proximity to the Rockets. 

The 24-year-old broke through at Rapid Vienna in Austria before moving to Bundesliga side Hoffenheim. He never made a first team appearance for the club, going on a series of loans in search of playing time. With his contract nearing its end, it was time to find a new club. He signed with the Dynamo, but wasn't short of suitors.

“I don’t like to talk about [other offers], but in the end, this was the best opportunity," Maric said. "This was the best club. It’s not easy to go so far from your family, this is not for fun, I saw it as the chance to grow myself out here and play in one of the best leagues in the world.

“For me, coming from Norway, it was about coming to a big league," he added. "It was the first thing I cared about, I wanted to challenge myself to see if I’m on this level. I wanted to challenge myself as a person, as a goalkeeper, there are so many reasons to come here. Also to live in the United States, not everybody where I come from can say this.”

Maric spoke to a few players familiar with the league before signing, including former D.C. United midfielder Branko Bošković. The two played together in Austria and Bošković had only good things to say about his experience in MLS.

Another strong factor in the decision to come to Houston was the number of goalkeepers who have developed in MLS before joining big clubs. Zack Steffen, who joined Manchester City last year, is the most recent example, following in a line that also includes Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and Brad Guzan.

“Here you play against a lot of good players," Maric said. "You don’t get this in, say, Norway. It’s a good level where you can develop. I know Zack Steffen went from Columbus to Manchester City. You have a lot of goalkeepers that go from MLS to top teams in Europe. Anything is possible.

For now, though, Maric is fully focused on establishing himself in his new home.

"I took my eye on this, but I’m here to do a job," Maric added. "It’s not about looking elsewhere. It’s about being one of the best Houston Dynamo players. I’m not thinking about only being here for a year or two. I’m here to help this club as much as I can, to bring it back to what it wants to be.”