Some still refer to Republic FC’s 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy II in last September’s USL playoff semifinal as “The Miracle at Bonney.”
The Galaxy II led 2-0 midway through the second half when Rodrigo Lopez scored a hat trick in the final 22 minutes that would propel Republic FC to the championship the next weekend.
Lopez tallied on two penalty kicks, then was fouled in stoppage time just outside the box and buried the free kick in the upper right corner, setting off a wild celebration among the sold-out crowd of 8,000.
But Republic FC coach Preki wants to hear nothing about last year entering Saturday night’s first meeting this season between the two rivals in a game Lopez may not even play.
“Well, it’s just another match for us right now,” Preki said. “It is a rivalry, but right now both teams are trying to survive the first part of the year. They might have a couple of injuries, and we have a couple of injuries.”
Lopez is among four Republic FC starters from last year dealing with injury. The star midfielder missed Saturday’s 4-2 loss at the Seattle Sounders FC 2 with a hip strain. He will travel south with the team but is a game-time decision.
But Preki said defender Nemanja Vukovic (hernia), forward Thomas Stewart (foot) and midfielder Max Alvarez (pelvis) will not play.
Injuries aside, the match might have had a little more buzz if it was being played at Bonney Field as originally scheduled. But Republic FC’s Cal Expo stadium is undergoing expansion and needed more time to complete construction.
So the match was moved to Carson and the Galaxy II agreed to switch its April 11 home match to Bonney Field.
Like Republic FC, the Galaxy II returns the core of its team from last season, including defender Daniel Steres and midfielder Andre Auras, both second team all-league selections last season. They are still coached by Curt Onalfo, the former Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United coach.
Like Republic FC, the Galaxy II opened its season against a new MLS-affiliated side. Los Angeles played the Real Monarchs of Salt Lake City to a 0-0 draw in Carson.
The results of the Sounders 2 and Monarchs matches show how competitive the four new MLS-affiliated sides may be in the new 12-team Western Conference of the expanded 24-team USL.
Seattle scored four times in the second half, including a free-kick goal and assist by Argentine transplant Pablo Rossi, a trialist signed the day before the match. The 22-year-old midfielder was named the USL Player of the Week for his performance.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Preki said. “But even with a lot of changes in the lineup, I thought we were pretty good. I wasn’t pleased with the result, but I was pleased with the way we came to the game. We had a good determination, now we’ve got to be a little smarter in our decision making.”
Republic FC midfielder Octavio Guzman was a standout in Seattle, scoring on a free-kick goal in stoppage time and helping to set up Justin Braun’s goal with a cross that tied the match 1-1 in the 64th minute.
“There is no panic here, we’ll be good,” Preki said. “It might take us 10 to 12 games, like last year. At the end of the day, things count at the end of the year.”
MLS veteran David Estrada and USL rookie Cameron Iwasa were signed just before the Seattle trip and both played against the Sounders 2.
Estrada, the former Sounders and D.C. United forward, played 84 minutes and Iwasa, the Jesuit High School and former UC Irvine star, subbed in for Joaquin Rivas in the 72nd minute.
“I think they will help us down the road,” Preki said. “They have something different they bring to the team. We’ve just got to give them some time to grow with the group, and they’ll be fine.”
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