It will be a special night at Bonney Field on Saturday for a number of reasons.
It will mark Republic FC’s first league home match since winning the USL championship in the team’s inaugural season last September on the same Cal Expo stadium turf.
The team will play in front of the largest crowd at Bonney Field because capacity has been expanded from 8,000 to 11,000, and the match is sold out. It also will be televised regionally on Channel 31.
More importantly, it will be the first home match against rival Los Angeles Galaxy II since the two teams met in last year’s raucous playoff semifinals at Bonney Field.
Republic FC rallied from two goals down late in the match to stun Los Dos 3-2. Republic FC midfielder Rodrigo Lopez produced a hat trick in scoring twice on penalty kicks, then connecting on a game-winning free kick in stoppage time.
It was the defining win for the new franchise doing everything in its power to join the Galaxy’s senior club in Major League Soccer.
Republic FC fans and players now refer to that victory as “The Miracle at Bonney,” and it’s been immortalized in a YouTube video.
But Galaxy II coach Curt Onalfo likely would label it “The Robbery at Bonney.”
After Los Angeles’ heartbreaking loss, Onalfo blistered the officiating crew.
“It’s one of those games that you just walk away shaking your head, and the league should be ashamed of themselves for such a poor officiating job,” Onalfo said then. “It’s an absolute disgrace, and I’m disgusted by it.”
But for Republic FC outside back Emrah Klimenta, defensive midfielder Ivan Mirkovic and their teammates – most of whom have returned for this season – the match was nirvana. While Lopez was the majestic hero, Klimenta and Mirkovic played critical roles in the comeback.
“I still get goose bumps whenever I look at the video,” Klimenta said. “Wow! I can’t believe I was a part of that. I feel so lucky to have been a part of that.”
Los Angeles, which had beaten Republic FC 2-1 two weeks earlier to hand Sacramento its only USL loss at Bonney Field, ran circles around Republic FC in the first half while taking a 2-0 halftime lead on goals by Charlie Rugg.
“(Coach) Preki was pretty hard on us (at halftime), but he woke us up,” Mirkovic said. “We as players woke each other up. There were no arguments; we were just honest with each other.”
Momentum shifted when Mirkovic was taken down in the box in the 68th minute by Galaxy II defender Andre Auras.
“I just was just trying to get something going,” Mirkovic said.
Lopez lined up and buried the PK.
Seventeen minutes later came the match’s most debated call, one that had the Galaxy coaching staff and players frothing.
Klimenta fired a ball into the box and it ricocheted off defender Joe Franco’s elbow as he leaped in the air and turned slightly sideways trying to block the rocket. Franco was called for a handball and Lopez again converted the free kick.
“I don’t know whether his arm was tucked in or not,” Klimenta said. “At first glance it looked like a PK, but looking over it later maybe it wasn’t. But it was the referee’s call. He made a big decision. After that second goal, we had the crowd behind us, we had the momentum, and we kept going at them.”
Lopez was fouled just outside of the box in stoppage time. He then sent a bending ball over the Galaxy II’s wall and into the upper-right corner of the net for the go-ahead goal. While Lopez was chased and mobbed by his teammates, pandemonium broke out among the 8,000 fans. A few minutes later the match was over and the celebrating commenced.
“I love playing against Galaxy,” Mirkovic said. “We’re excited and motivated to play them because they have MLS players, and we want to play in MLS.”
Republic FC finished with a 3-1-1 advantage over Los Angeles last season.
But this week Preki didn’t want to hear about “The Miracle at Bonney” or Republic FC’s success against Galaxy II.
“Why do we want to talk about that before they come into town?” Preki asked. “Retelling things just gives them some advantage. What happened last year was great, but now we move on. We’re focused on a different season. Galaxy is slightly different, we’re slightly different.”
But two weeks ago in Carson the results were uncannily similar.
In a match moved from Sacramento to Southern California because of Bonney Field construction, Republic FC’s Octavio Guzman made two PKs and Lopez, after entering in the second half, scored in stoppage time on an assist by David Estrada for the 3-2 win.
“It didn’t really hit me until after the match how similar that game was to what happened at Bonney,” Klimenta said. “There’s just something about us playing L.A. After everything that’s happened, we know on Saturday they are going to come at us hot and want to beat us.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.