Republic FC reserve goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek isn’t concerned if he and starter Evan Newton were injured.
Jakubek jokes that their insurance policy is 43-year-old Simon Sheppard, Republic FC’s third-year goalkeeper coach.
“He can still play,” said Jakubek, Sacramento’s oldest player at 37. “He was out here yesterday making some great saves. It’s not like he’s an old man out here yelling at us. He practices what he preaches.”
The 6-foot-4 Sheppard has a pretty good pedigree, even if it takes him a lot longer to physically recover from those impromptu stints between the pipes. Sheppard competed in the upper levels of English football with Watford FC and Reading FC during a playing career that also included a stint with England in the FIFA U-19 World Cup in 1993.
Now Sheppard’s focus is to help Republic FC coach and fellow Englishman Paul Buckle keep Sacramento among the USL’s top teams that look to soon join Major League Soccer.
Sacramento, which finished first in the Western Conference, begins its quest for its second USL championship Saturday when it hosts the Orange County Blues FC at Bonney Field in the first round of the playoffs.
Expect Sheppard to have Newton and Jakubek ready to play.
“Simon brings a lot of experience,” Jakubek said. “He played at the top levels in England and it shows out here in training. He does a great job of keeping us consistent and accountable. But he’s also got a good personality, so he keeps practice fun and keeps us energized. Even at 37, I look forward to coming to training sessions every day.”
Jakubek and Newton combined for 12 USL shutouts. They allowed just 27 goals and combined for a 0.90 goals-allowed average, all club records.
Not that Republic FC goalkeeping was shabby in 2014 or 2015.
Jake Gleeson played in Republic FC’s inaugural season on loan from the Portland Timbers and is now one of the MLS’ top goalkeepers. Patrick McLain is a reserve with the Chicago Fire after starting most of the 2015 season for Sacramento before being injured and replaced by Jakubek in the final five games.
“Simon earned Gleeson’s respect, and I think Dominik’s career has been prolonged because of Simon,” said Republic FC director of football Graham Smith. “He’s very good, very diligent.”
After his playing career, Sheppard moved from England to the Sacramento area as he climbed the corporate ladder with Adecco Group, a Swiss-based employment services company. But he eventually caught the coaching bug and started his own goalkeeping training business. He trains male and female goalkeepers of all ages and coaches four teams with the Granite Bay Soccer Club when he isn’t coaching with Republic FC.
Sheppard said that if former Republic FC coach Preki didn’t love playing basketball, he might be doing something else with his weekday mornings and Saturday evenings.
“It’s really a funny story how I got the job,” Sheppard said. “I had heard there was this professional club that was starting up, and it sparked my interest. I mentioned that to a friend of mine, Mark Harrison, and he says, ‘I play basketball with Preki. I’ll see him tomorrow.’ ”
Sheppard still had to win the approval of Smith, who was a top-level goalkeeper in his day in England.
“He came into my office and he’s a big guy, so I wasn’t going to say no,” Smith said. “I put him on probation and told him, ‘I can’t promise you anything.’ But he took to it like a duck to water.”
A typical day for Sheppard during Republic FC’s nine- to 10-month season begins as early as 6:30 a.m. and can end as late at 9 in the evening. So he said he is fortunate that his wife, Traci, and his three children are so understanding.
“That’s always the hardest part – juggling life,” Sheppard said. “When you have an unusual life like I do, it takes a lot of patience from your family because it can be inconvenient. Things can change with a snap of the fingers.”