With a quick pen stroke and a ceremonial toast, Sacramento Republic FC on Tuesday afternoon began building its roster ahead of its expected inaugural season in 2014.
The expansion United Soccer League Pro Division club announced the signing of midfielder Rodrigo Lopez and introduced the 26-year-old before several dozen supporters at a midtown event, marking the one-year anniversary of the team’s inception.
Dressed in a light blue blazer and jeans, Lopez, whose professional career includes stints in Major League Soccer and USL Pro, called it “an honor to be the first player ever on this franchise.” Lopez played the 2013 season with the Los Angeles Blues of USL Pro, ranking second in the league with 11 assists in 23 matches.
“He’s a great passer of the ball, excellent at set pieces – corner kicks, free kicks,” club technical director Graham Smith said. “And he’s extremely consistent and what I call a 90-minute player. He gets up and gets back. I like to think he’s going to be the spark that will ignite the rest of the team.”
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Lopez, whose career began in 2005 with Los Angeles-based Chivas USA under now-Sacramento head coach Predrag Radosavljevic, said he opted to sign with Sacramento after researching the efforts to build a franchise here. Particularly intriguing, he said, were the support he saw for the expansion team on social media and the crowd of 14,000 that attended an exhibition match at Raley Field in July.
“If you can get 14,000 people in the stadium and a home team’s not even playing, I don’t see why we can’t sell out every week,” Lopez said.
Sacramento Republic FC intends to play its home games beginning in April at an 8,000-seat stadium at Cal Expo. Plans for the stadium require final approval from the Cal Expo board at a meeting Dec. 13.
Meanwhile, the club plans to announce a second signing this week and will hold tryouts for college players early next week. Club president Warren Smith reiterated Tuesday his hope that all is progress toward achieving an ultimate goal of having an MLS franchise in Sacramento.
Lopez said he’s aware of the city’s MLS aspirations and added, “Most importantly, if we want to move up, we have to be successful playing on the field.”
“I know Preki’s expectations as a coach, and I know he’s not going to settle,” Lopez said of Radosavljevic. “I know he’s going to bring a strong squad and, like I said, we need to start winning games and play entertaining soccer.”