As confirmed through his Instagram, and later by Syracuse Athletics on January 2nd, former Syracuse Orange defender Gabriel Mikina will join Saint Louis CITY2 of the MLS NEXT. CITY2 is the MLS NEXT affiliate of Saint Louis City SC which joined the MLS proper in 2019.
Mikina joined Syracuse for his senior year in the 2023 season after three seasons at Niagara University. Mikina also played professionally in the Polish first division or Ekstraklasa for Rakow Czestochowa and Stal Rzeszów before joining Niagara. In his three campaigns with Niagara, Mikina totaled an impressive 2,800 minutes across 42 matches.
Mikina’s junior year was certainly his most successful as he scored five and assisted two despite his defensive roles. This momentum transitioned to Syracuse where Mikina became a massively important part of the team. Mikina was one of four players for the Orange to start all 21 matches of the campaign as he racked up 1,700 minutes, the second most on the roster.
Mikina was a decisive player whilst wearing the orange and blue as he picked up five goals (including three game-winners) as well as one assist. Of course, Mikina was most outstanding on the defensive end where he featured as both a center back and a defensive midfielder.
As someone who watched essentially every minute of the team's 2023, I was often quick to describe Mikina as the Orange’s most important player for the season, and that still rings true, in my opinion. The Toronto, Canada native showcased a wide skillset during his time with the Orange and already has European professional experience in Poland.
Mikina’s most invaluable asset for the Orange this season was his positional fluidity. At the start of the season, Mikina frequently featured in defensive midfield, acting as a shield for his back line. Mikina is reserved and not overly aggressive but picks the perfect times to get involved and break up opposition chances. Mikina was also a composed presence in the middle of the park who consistently delivered sharp and accurate passes under pressure.
Despite Mikina’s success in midfield, as the season went on, Coach Ian McIntyre began to realize that Mikina was actually best as the right center-back of a defensive three. This was certainly Mikina’s best position as he was able to showcase all of the best aspects of his game from the back.
Firstly, Mikina is a physical and combative athlete, not concerned about putting his body on the line for the team. Mikina is absolutely dominant in the air and possesses great leaping ability. More importantly, Mikina has great timing and positioning for aerial duels. This aerial dominance is part of what saw Mikina score a ridiculous four goals off of set pieces for the Orange in the 2024 season. Mikina always seems to be at the right time at the right place when the ball is in the air.
These instincts translate well to defensive set pieces, where Mikina is frequently on-hand (or foot) to clear the ball away. Even from open play, Mikina has a knack for winning the ball out of the air and getting it away from the danger zone.
Another added benefit of Mikina featuring in the wide center-back positions was the time he received on the ball. In my opinion, Mikina is a pro-level passer. As described in his profile as a midfielder, Mikina’s passing accuracy is ridiculously high. His passes don’t just get completed, but often have the weight and pace that makes the recipient's job easier. He plays wing-backs through into space and puts the ball on the correct foot of the midfielder so that they can turn and run.
Mikina’s range of passing is also very good, particularly on the ground. Mikina loves to smash low-driven balls into the channels for his widemen, and he can also play driven and direct passes across the field to switch the point of attack. Mikina is also able to switch play or look in behind with balls over the top.
As a final key point, although Mikina is not the most vocal leader, he is certainly a quiet one. On the pitch, the defender instills a sense of confidence in his side as he rarely makes mistakes and will sacrifice to clean up those that his teammates make. The Canadian also gives 100% each game and seems to have great relationships with his teammates around him.
The SLC2 coaching staff will definitely be excited to work with a player who has pro-level experience under his belt as well as having played against most of the top teams in college soccer. Mikina also comes off as a kind, humble, and genuine individual. Mikina’s positional fluidity, excellent passing, composed defending, and aerial dominance gives him a great platform to build on in the MLS NEXT.
Clearly, the quality of Syracuse defenders has caught the eyes of the MLS as another star from the 2023 season, Josh Belluz will line up for the Colorado Rapids MLS2 affiliate. We touched on Belluz’s profile and prospects here.
As Saint Louis City continues to develop as an MLS franchise, it is likely that pathways from its MLS2 counterpart will open up. If Mikina is able to improve his tackling, dribbling, and game-reading, there is no reason why he could not make the step to MLS-level play. The versatile defender has all the right tools, so now we will have to wait and see where they take him. You can check back here at TNIAAM for future Syracuse soccer updates on the likes of Belluz, Mikina, and the 2024 roster.