Tuesday, April 16, 2024
League1 Ontario Men

Gabriel Mikina discusses his NT best bits, college soccer, and professional aspirations

Gabi Mikina playing for Syracuse
Gabi in action at college. Photo credit: Syracuse University

Gabriel Mikina is a 22-year-old centre-back who has been playing for North Toronto Soccer in the League1 Ontario Men’s Premier Division for the last three years. We caught up with him ahead of his move to national collegiate champions Syracuse University for the upcoming season.

From your first kick at North Toronto Soccer to now, how would you describe your experience?

I’d describe my experience as filled with growth. I came to NT through word of mouth from some former players that played OPDL and League1 Ontario, and heard that Marko Milanovic was a coach that I just had to meet. I instantly loved his coaching style, training session intensity, and overall desire to win. I came in as a midfielder but quickly was told that I’d be much better at centre-back.

Trusting the coaches and their experience, I accepted constructive criticism and have now spent the past couple years learning how to become a more complete centre-back. Switching positions isn’t easy but being coached through it by great coaches such as Marko and Filip Prostran and great players such as Christian Westlaken has allowed me to grow into a much more mature player.

The environment that we have at North Toronto is great; the mix of older, seasoned guys and high-performing youth players allows for a unique training experience where hard work and attention to detail is the bare minimum to succeed.

Is there a standout moment from your time with the club and what made it so special?

Scoring against Alliance United last year after going down a man to tie the game. We had a large turnout at the game, a lot of the younger reserve guys came to watch, and after going down a man we didn’t drop our level and I scored just a couple minutes later to make it 1-1. The way we came back to score showed character and the celebrations were obviously great.

How have you improved as a player while with North Toronto Soccer?

The level I’ve been exposed to at NT has made me a better player. Small habits that most coaches would never bother to tell you about are drilled into you here, to the point where if you don’t remember to “move after you play the ball” your team is coming off the field to play small-sided games.

My tactical knowledge of the game has grown a lot. Marko coaches you to prevent issues before they can happen and that helps me a lot back in League1 but even more at school. And I can’t forget Fil – 90 per cent of my goals have come from set pieces and there’s no better person at set pieces than him. It’s nice being on the right side of all these trick plays because you do not want to be on the wrong side of a Fil corner masterclass!

Who at North Toronto has had the biggest impact on your career so far and why?

Marko’s had the most profound impact on my career so far. Obviously switching positions was a huge turning point for me in my career but meeting the guys in the team has been amazing. They rub off on me in terms of working hard but they’re also just great guys that I’ve enjoyed time with outside of NT, such as playing at the FTF tournament or just having kick-arounds.

How do you prepare for each gameday?

Pretty simple. Good food, double espresso and music.

Gabi playing for NT

Do you have any interests or secret talents beyond soccer, and if so, why are they important to you?

I love clothing and shoes. Dressing well before games and even outside of football makes me play better and feel better. I’m a firm believer of ‘dress well, play well’. I’m lucky to have people around me that share the same passion, such as my girlfriend and close friends, so I can’t really be caught lacking.

Tell us more about what’s coming up at college.

The level at Syracuse University is second to none. Obviously, they’re coming off a national championship last year and me being one of the many transfers, there’s big shoes to fill. I love a challenge so having that target on our backs of being the defending champions means a lot of teams want to take points off you.

There’s also a long lineage of great Canadian players who have played at Syracuse and taken the jump into professional soccer such as Tajon Buchanan and Kamal Miller. Seeing what they’ve accomplished inspires me to follow in their footsteps and try to achieve what they have and more.

What are you looking forward to the most about college, and is there anything in particular that you want to gain from the experience?

I’ve got professional aspirations past college so I’m here to do a job, win games, and championships. Everything after that should fall into place. It’s always exciting to play in the best conference in the NCAA against some of the best teams in the country, so I’m looking to build on the good habits I developed over the summer at NT and try to implement them into my game this season.

What are the biggest takeaways from NT that you think will help you at college?

The habits I’ve developed over the past three League1 seasons have become embedded in me. Staying tuned in for every minute of the game is the difference in winning or losing a game.

What are your targets for this year, and beyond? These could be ambitions both on, and off, the field.

I want to play long after college, so hopefully I can produce on the field and help my team win games. I want to win a national title and have a long and successful season with my teammates here at Syracuse.

What’s your message to younger players aspiring to play high-level soccer at NT?

Buy into the process and commit to doing your best.

The best version of yourself can only be uncovered through hard work and consistency. NT has some of the best coaches in the country, so trust them and work with them and success will come soon after.

Monday–Friday: 10 am - 6 pm

North Toronto Soccer Club
1041 Avenue Rd. Suite 5
Toronto, Ontario
M5N 2C5

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