Athletics can make for strange bedfellows.
That certainly is the case for new Republic FC goalkeeper Patrick McLain.
Last year the 6-foot-3 former Cal Poly standout played for the Orange County Blues FC, one of Republic FC’s keenest rivals in its inaugural season.
McLain was in goal when the Blues beat Republic FC 2-1 last April 12 at UC Irvine, handing Sacramento its first USL loss.
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He also was in goal when Republic FC beat Orange County 2-1 in front of more than 17,000 fans at Hughes Stadium on May 3, then by the same score July 7 at Bonney Field.
That match proved particularly intense.
With the score tied 1-1 in the 84th minute, Republic FC’s Tommy Thompson sent a shot at McLain that he bobbled, then corralled as he dove to his right.
Republic FC forward Thomas Stewart came sliding into McLain, arriving late. That raised McLain’s ire as he went after the prone Stewart. As players from both teams pushed and shoved, McLain and Stewart jawed at each other and had to be separated. Both received yellow cards.
“Hey, we’re on the same side now,” a smiling McLain said Friday. “All past transgressions are left in the past, and I think we’ve both moved past it. We’re both fierce competitors, so I’m glad that we’re now on the same team.”
That July match did not end well for McLain or Orange County.
In stoppage time, Republic FC midfielder Octavio Guzman kicked a rocket from the top of the penalty box between the legs of a Blues defender that a diving McLain couldn’t nab.
The result proved a harbinger for both teams.
Republic FC went on to win 11 more USL matches, including the 2-0 championship game victory Sept. 27 over the Harrisburg City Islanders at Bonney Field.
Orange County lost nine of its last 11 in finishing second to last in the 14-team league. That included a 6-1 loss to Republic FC on Aug. 17 in front of an announced 753 fans in Irvine, a match in which Stewart came off the bench to score three goals.
But McLain didn’t play in that match.
He was so disillusioned in Orange County that he said he dug into his own pocket and used his savings to buy out his contract. He said the departure of a goalkeeper coach he respected early in the season plus a revolving door of players led to the unraveling of a team that appeared to be pretty solid at the start of the season. Despite playing in only 15 of Orange County’s 28 USL matches, McLain finished the season seventh in saves.
It also made McLain 2 for 2 with dysfunctional teams.
He was a reserve goalkeeper for Chivas USA during the now-defunct Major League Soccer club’s 2012 and 2013 seasons when the controversial owner jettisoned non-Hispanic coaches, players and prospects from the organization. McLain told the soccer website Over There in October that he, too, believed he had been released by Chivas USA at the end of the 2013 season for criticizing “the flagrant discrimination taking place.”
It’s a subject that McLain would rather avoid these days.
“I’ll just say that I appreciate Chivas giving me my first professional contract and leave it at that,” McLain said. “I’m just happy to be moving forward in my career in Sacramento.”
McLain, 26, said Republic FC is a soccer nirvana compared to his previous pro stops.
“This is better than anything I’ve seen in USL and better than a lot of MLS that I’ve seen,” McLain said. “Last season I looked forward to playing in Sacramento because of the excitement, the fans and the competition. Now I’ll get to experience that every week.”
The Wisconsin native who loves living in California said he thought his next professional gig would be in Sweden, but when Republic FC technical director Graham Smith called with an offer to play in Sacramento, he jumped.
“You want to be with the team that everyone is looking at, and Sacramento is that and for good reason,” McLain said. “Preki keeps an incredibly intense practice, and that’s what you are going to need to play in MLS.”
McLain has a history with Smith, too.
While at Cal Poly, he played for the Ventura County Fusion, a Premier Development League team Smith founded and coached that has a close relationship with Republic FC. Smith is a former English goalkeeper, and his son, Adam, a Republic FC assistant coach, was a goalkeeper coach with the Portland Timbers
Sacramento goalkeeper coach Simon Sheppard also played in England and was a member of its U-19 World Cup team. Fellow goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek has played on indoor and outdoor pro teams for more than a decade.
“This is a very goalkeeper-friendly environment,” McLain said. “I look forward to learning from all these guys.”
McLain had a strong debut in playing the first half against the Fresno Fuego on Feb. 7. He made five first-half saves to keep the aggressive PDL team off the scoreboard in an eventual 2-2 draw.
Preki was pleased with McLain’s performance.
“He was good,” the coach said. “He’s done pretty well so far; he looks comfortable; he’s very eager. I think he has a lot of upside. Hopefully he will embrace the position, and hopefully he’ll be good for us.”
McLain has big cleats to fill.
Jake Gleeson, Republic FC’s No. 1 goalkeeper last season on loan from the Portland Timbers, ranked third in the USL in goals against average (0.917). McLain also is competing with holdover Jakubek, a fan favorite who played well in a number of matches when Gleeson was injured.
Jakubek said he looks forward to working with McLain.
“Jake and I had a great partnership last season,” Jakubek said. “We got along real well. I expect the same to happen with Pat. I know it’s competition, but at the same time he’s my family, my brother.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.