Sacramento Republic FC opens its first soccer season Saturday against the Los Angeles Galaxy II in Carson with the first of five consecutive road games.
The team, one of 14 in the 4-year-old United Soccer League’s Pro Division, won’t play its home opener until April 26 against the Harrisburg (Pa.) City Islanders at Hughes Stadium.
Republic FC, coached by former Major League Soccer and U.S. national team player Predrag “Preki” Radosavljevic, is scheduled to play Arizona United SC on June 7 in its first game at a still-under-construction, 8,000-seat facility at Cal Expo. It will play 28 matches through September.
The 23-man team is composed of a mix of veterans and young players, some with international experience and others with Major League Soccer and USL Pro experience. The team has affiliations with the MLS San Jose Earthquakes and Portland Timbers, and three Timber players are on loan to the team.
Republic FC president Warren Smith hopes to eventually build an 18,000-seat, soccer-specific stadium in Downtown Sacramento in Republic FC’s bid to join the MLS, which continues ambitious expansion.
Here are five questions to ponder as Republic enters its inaugural season:
• Teams live and die by goalie play, and 6-foot-5 Jake Gleeson, 23, is considered a potential star. He has New Zealand national team and MLS experience and is on loan from the Timbers.
• Forward Justin Braun, 26, has played 131 MLS matches with Chivas, the Montreal Impact, Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC. The 6-2 Braun twice scored hat tricks in MLS matches and has played previously for Preki.
• Splashy midfielder Gilberto dos Santos Souza Jr., 25 – Gilberto for short – has played most of his six-year pro career with Brazilian club teams, including top division Atlético Mineiro. He last played with the Philadelphia Union.
• Former Sacramento State and Napa High standout Max Alvarez, 22, has been one of the team’s most impressive players since the forward made the team from an open tryout.
• Midfielder Rodrigo Lopez, 26, was No. 2 in assists (11) in USL Pro last season playing for the then-Los Angeles Blues. The Republic’s first signee has played with the Portland Timbers and Chivas.
The league attendance record is 20,886, set last September in the championship match between the Orlando City SC and Charlotte Eagles at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Republic FC hopes to fill Hughes Stadium, which has a listed seating capacity of 20,311. And, the team announced Wednesday that it has sold more than 5,000 season tickets.
That would be Orlando City, which has won two of three championships since USL Pro started in 2011 and will move to MLS next season. It has five players – Tommy Redding, Tyler Turner, Kevin Molino, Derwin Ceren and Yordany Alvarez – with MLS contracts. Last season, Orlando City beat the Charlotte Eagles 7-4 for the championship. The team averaged 8,197 during the regular season and 12,761 during the playoffs. Orlando City will play in Sacramento on July 17.
The Galaxy is the first MLS team to bring its reserve squad into USL Pro and is the model for future partnerships between MLS and the third-tier league. LA Galaxy II, which opened the season Saturday with a 3-1 win over the Orange County Blues FC, has players on loan from the Galaxy, including 19-year-old striker Jack McBean, who played in 17 matches and scored two goals last season for the Galaxy. Other players from the big club are midfielders Raul Mendiola and Oscar Sorto and forward Bradford Jamieson IV.
With most of the league’s 14 teams in the eastern part of the United States, LA Galaxy II, Orange County Blues FC and Arizona United SC will be Republic FC’s geographic rivals. But if Republic FC fields a strong side, perennial powers Orlando City, Charlotte, the Richmond Kickers and the Charleston Battery could morph into rivals. “The bar has been set very high within the group,” Braun said of Republic FC. “We know what we’re capable of when we’re playing at our best. It’s just a matter of bringing that consistency each week. Obviously, we look to make the playoffs. Once you get into that, it’s anyone’s game from there.”