GERZICICH STEPS UP IN TEL AVIV
Bryan Gerzicich has earned the reputation as one of the best defensive midfielders in Israel and now he is looking forward to a fresh start after joining one of Israel's best teams in Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Gerzicich, 29, has been with Ironi Kiryat Shmona since 2010 where he was a mainstay in the midfield helping the tiny club based on the Lebanon border achieve unprecedented success. In 2012, Kiryat Shmona won the Israeli Premier League title with ease and the club was anchored by a defense that was near impossible for opponents to score.
Last season, Kiryat Shmona played in Champions League qualifiers and Europa League group stages but Gerzicich was injured for several games with a meniscus tear in his knee. The club also had a new coach after Ran Ben Shimon had a falling out with Kiryat Shmona's owner despite the team's success.
In May, Shimon was hired as coach of Hapoel Tel Aviv and one of his first acts was to have the club sign Gerzicich to bolster the midfield. In the Israeli Premier League, each club is allowed five players on the roster for non-Israeli citizens and Gerzicich will take up one of Hapoel's foreign spots.
"I am very happy to be working with him again," Gerzicich told YA. "I'm sure that he will build a team to be able to fight for the title. We have the goal to continue with short term goals such as building a solid group and with what we can get and continuing growing step by step."
Gerzicich joined Hapoel Tel Aviv on a free transfer after his contract with Kiryat Shmona expired in May. He was born in the United States but was raised in Argentina where he began his career with Arsenal de Sarandí. He transferred to Israel to play for Hapoel Haifa in 2007 and has remained in Israel ever since.
After Kiryat Shmona he had the opportunity to play in other countries. He explored options in M.L.S as well as other countries but the offer to join one of Israel's best club and work under a familiar coach with whom he won a championship was simply too good of an opportunity to pass.
"There were words exchanged between teams in other countries," Gerzicich said. "But I never had a solid offer in my hand, so I can't say that I ever considered that possibility. I've been playing for several years now in this country, and my family and I enjoy the security that there is here, people are very calm about life, and we are happy, so it wasn't difficult to play again in this country."
Gerzicich will now also have the opportunity to move from the small war-torn village of Kiryat Shmona to the cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv. The Los Angeles-born midfielder is emotion looking back on his time at Kiryat Shmona.
The Israeli Premier League historically has been dominated by the two Tel Aviv clubs, Maccabi Haifa, and Beitar Jerusalem. When Kiryat Shmona, in a town of less than 20,000 people, won the title in 2012, it was a major story in Israeli soccer. Gerzicich was there not only for the title, but also in the years before as the team's core was built up.
"It was a giant step that I took with that club," Gerzicich said. "I have good memories there. I left a lot of good friends and teammates there. There are a lot of people that I knew that helped me out a lot in the years that I was there. In relation to soccer, I was able to achieve a lot and it was good for everyone. I have nothing but good memories of the club and the people of that city."
Gerzicich's first test with Hapoel Tel Aviv will be in a Europa League qualifying series against Bulgaria's Beroe. The first leg will take place on July 17 in Bulgaria and the second leg will be in Tel Aviv on July 24. It is the second qualifying round and to make the Group Stages, Hapoel will have to get through two qualifying rounds and a playoff.
Hapoel Tel Aviv has had notable success in Europe in recent years qualifying for the Champions League group stages in 2010-11as well playing in the Europa League group stages each of the last two seasons.
It will be Gerzicich's second straight year in the Europa League and he is confident that Hapoel has the ability to progress to the group stages of a major tournament for the fifth straight season.
"They are much more physical and disciplined teams," Gerzicich concluded. "We have to be very focus and organized to be able to obtain results, going from game to game in order to reach our goal."