After another magnetic night in front of another sellout crowd of 20,231, Republic FC said farewell to festive Hughes Stadium with a dramatic comeback 1-1 draw against Arizona United SC to extend its unbeaten streak to seven matches, including five in USL Pro.
But the debate continued among the fans about the upcoming move to the smaller Bonney Field at Cal Expo that is expected to be ready for Republic FC’s June 20 match against the Colorado Rapids Reserves.
Republic FC is moving to the 8,000-seat stadium to play on a soccer-specific grass field that at 120 by 80 yards will be among the largest in the United States.
While some fans have lined up on the side of either Hughes Stadium – with its narrow field, synthetic turf and football lines – or Bonney Field, others, like Paul Arellanes, are conflicted.
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Arellanes has coached men’s or women’s soccer at American River College since 1993 and has seen area pro soccer teams come and go through the years.
He’s impressed with the management and direction of Republic FC, no matter where it plays.
“As a soccer player, you want to play on the wider field,” Arellanes said. “You get to see the true talent of the player, especially this team. They’re pretty skilled.
“But Hughes has been fantastic, I never expected three sellouts. (Republic FC) has done it right. With the food, the Tower Bridge Battalion, the atmosphere has been great.”
He sees Republic FC becoming a tough ticket to get, like the Sacramento Kings “when they were going well.” But he said sellouts of 20,000 throughout the season at Hughes Stadium would only reinforce Republic FC’s Major League Soccer aspirations.
“I could see Warren Smith (Republic FC founder) say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a sprinkler problem out here (Bonney),’ we need to keep playing at Hughes,” Arellanes quipped.
Sacramento’s Janelle Lathrop, a season-ticket holder who has attended the four Hughes matches, would prefer to stay at the Land Park community college stadium because it’s close to home.
But she’s keeping an open mind about Bonney Field.
“I’ll wait to see,” Lathrop said. “They’ll sell out at Cal Expo, but will they lose a lot of those fans that have come here? I hope they make it. I want a soccer team here.”
Fan reaction has been brisk on Republic FC’s Facebook page regarding the stadium debate.
Wrote Alex Richmond: “Finally, been waiting months for this! Better field, better location, better atmosphere. While it does hold fewer people, I don’t see that as a bad thing. I’d rather have 8,000 dedicated fans than 20,000 casual ones.”
Countered Allie Schembra: “I liked going to Hughes Stadium. So easy to get there with Light Rail. It was a three stop ride from 16th street. If only they could adjust Hughes to be soccer-specific. Trying to get to Cal Expo is going to be a madhouse, especially if there are home games during state fair time. There will be no where to park.”
Smith thanked Sacramento City College officials for helping to jump-start enthusiasm for the team, something he doesn’t expect to dissipate with the move. While he didn’t rule out playing at Hughes Stadium again, he said the push would have to come from Sac City officials.
“If Hughes had been a soccer field, it would be a lot easier for us,” Smith admitted. “We could be making our case to MLS right now.
“But they have education programs they need to run and they’ve got great track and football programs, so we completely understand why they couldn’t do anything of that nature. … If they had some interest in talking about it, we would listen.”
While the Republic FC players look forward to playing on a larger pitch, they acknowledge the sellout crowds at Hughes have been inspiring.
“When you have 20,000 people behind you, it gives you that extra push,” said midfielder Rodrigo Lopez, the team’s assists leader. “The last 10 minutes, you’re so tired but you have the extra drive to win because you want to satisfy everyone who has paid to watch you play.”
Republic FC leading scorer Thomas Stewart played in front of large crowds with the Shamrock Rovers in Ireland. But he marvels at the support for Republic FC.
“To hear the fans roaring pumps me up even more,” Stewart said. “It’s made coming all the way out here worthwhile.”