The Loyola coach has seen the emotional side of Kocic that apparently rubbed some at Toronto FC the wrong way. Mettrick had no such problems.
“I thought he was refreshingly honest. He just wanted to be good at the end of the day.”
Growing up, Kocic competed in swimming, basketball and soccer. He started organized soccer at age 11, as a left-winger. At 13, he chose soccer as his preferred sport and switched positions after a neighbour, noticing his height, told him of a team in need of a goalie.
It proved to be a good move. Natural talent and some good coaching helped Kocic get noticed – in the region and nationally.
Kocic represented Serbia and Montenegro at the under-19 and under-21 level. A vice-captain, he featured in the second qualifying round tournament for the 2004 under-19 European championships and to this day remembers proudly the day as an 18-year-old when he received a letter summoning him to an under-21 squad that included Nemanja Vidic (now with Manchester United) and Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea).
“I was just happy to train with them,” said Kocic, who played a couple of friendlies at the under-21 level.
Life was changing rapidly for Kocic.
The day after he turned 18, he left his hometown for Belgrade to join FK Radnicki.
His father had a restaurant in Belgrade and offered to put him up. But he was always working, leaving young Kocic alone in the big city.
“It was very scary, I was by myself.”
But he was up to the challenge, fighting five other ‘keepers at the club. Lady Luck intervened as two goalies were loaned out. Then another was kicked off the team after refusing to come out at halftime of a friendly.
Kocic was the backup for the first game of the season and then amazingly found himself starting after the No. 1 ‘keeper had a bad outing. Kocic saved a penalty and was named man of the match. He went on to play some 35 games that season.
He moved to another local team, which he says was owned by a mobster’s family. He spent just six months there as the club eventually fell into disarray.
Brest, a French team, was interested but backed off after learning he was still somehow tied to the in-limbo club for another two years. Kocic was thrown a lifeline when his goalkeeping coach, knowing the young ‘keeper had not signed a professional contact, suggested university in the U.S.
A string of connections – and a tape sent to soccer coach Dave Masur – led him to St. John’s University in New York.
Kocic made his first-ever trip to Bosnia first, staying with a Muslim family while he took the SATs to ease passage to America. It proved to be an eye-opening trip.
“People were probably nicer than my neighbours in Serbia. They were so nice, took care of us,” Kocic said.
“That tells you there’s good and bad people, it’s not about who’s what, who’s Muslim, who’s Serbian, who’s not, who’s Catholic. It was a good experience.”
The unknown beckoned Kocic again in August 2005. Despite battling a high fever, he jumped on a plane with a Serbian friend en route to the Big Apple and St. John’s.
“I landed in New York and I was expecting the movies. Big buildings, beautiful streets, everything nice,” said Kocic.
Instead an assistant coach met them at the airport and took them through the ‘hood to Queens.
“I was like ‘What the hell is this?“’ recalled Kocic.
The Serbs were taken to their new home, a house that had no bed – just a shared air mattress for the two Serbs.
“Every time he turned, I rolled over,” Kocic said with a laugh.
The next day, he woke up and went out to buy some food.
“I don’t know if it was because I was sick but my mind wasn’t working properly,” Kocic said.
Bacon back home was dried or smoked. Unknowingly he bought raw bacon and put it in a sandwich. He couldn’t even chew it.