They may have an affiliation agreement and great respect for each other. But when the San Jose Earthquakes and Republic FC take the field, it’s time to dial up the intensity.
Saturday’s match between the two teams in front of an announced record-setting crowd of 9,794 at expanded Bonney Field resembled a taut, late-season donnybrook more than a preseason friendly.
In the end, San Jose won 1-0 on Matias Perez Garcia’s 51st-minute goal from an assist by Chris Wondolowski.
The Earthquakes, Northern California’s Major League Soccer representative, finished last in the Western Conference last season. But they have a new coach and new attitude. Republic FC, the defending USL Pro champion, is making its own bid to join MLS and, under coach Preki, won’t back down from anyone.
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So in the first half, emotions boiled over when Republic FC trialist Bilal Duckett clipped the heel of Wondolowski, the U.S. national team striker, while trying to make a tackle. It resulted in pushing and shoving between the players before Duckett was shown a yellow card.
“I caught him on his heel,” Duckett said. “I saw him potentially breaking. It was a good battle against Wondolowksi. He’s a smart player. And there were no hard feelings. We hugged afterward.
“But it’s our team’s identity to go out and battle and put teams under a lot of pressure. When that happens, there are going to be frustrations, and things are going to boil over. I was just trying to give our team my best.”
Duckett had big boots to fill. He played the first half at center back, filling in for USL Pro Defender of the Year Nemanja Vukovic, who is recovering from hernia surgery.
Duckett moved to outside defender in the second half before coming out in the 85th minute. He is a former Vancouver Whitecaps draft pick who played the last two seasons for the USL Rochester Rhinos and Charlotte Eagles.
The 6-foot-3 Georgia native is among a large group of trialists trying to land a half dozen remaining Republic FC roster spots. He was one of 18 players to play for Republic FC on Saturday.
“There were some plays I would have liked to have back,” Duckett said. “Perfection is the goal.”
Preki was pleased with Duckett, who he says has a huge upside, as well as his team’s overall performance.
“I thought there was a lot of good,” Preki said. “We made a couple of mistakes and got punished for one. I thought we kept the ball really well against an MLS team. That shows you that our guys are pretty capable.”
San Jose played most of its starters well into the second half as new coach Dominic Kinnear prepares the Quakes for their MLS season opener in two weeks.
Republic FC midfielder Rodrigo Lopez said he expected to see San Jose’s best game and thought his team was solid, considering it has played half as many preseason matches as the Quakes.
“It’s good to see that rivalry and the commitment by both teams to come out and fight hard,” Lopez said.
Republic FC president and founder Warren Smith said that although it’s a keen rivalry, the relationship between the two Northern California sides is strong.
Last year, the Earthquakes’ Adam Jahn, Tommy Thompson, JJ Koval and Mike Fucito made contributions to Republic FC’s first-season success.
“Our affiliation is going to be stronger than it was last year,” Smith said. “Dominic Kinnear really understands affiliations. I know he’s excited to be able to drive up and see his players play.”
MATCH AT A GLANCE
Goal of the match: Unmarked San Jose midfielder Matias Perez Garcia scored from the top of box on an assist by Chris Wondolowski in the 51st minute.
Home-field assist: The raucous, drum-beating Tower Bridge Battalion, Republic FC’s growing rooting section, filled more than a quarter of the new north-end bleachers and continued its passionate cheers throughout the chilly evening.
Local appeal: Former Granite Bay High School star Tommy Thompson and ex-Jesuit standout Adam Jahn entered in the second half for San Jose. Both played on loan to Republic FC last season. They combined for two goals and three assists in San Jose’s 4-0 win over the Fresno Fuego on Wednesday.
By the numbers: San Jose had 15 shots on goal, Republic FC 11. Republic FC goalie Patrick McLain had three saves in his debut.
Next up: New York Cosmos vs. Republic FC, Saturday at 7 p.m. at Hughes Stadium.