Republic FC forward Chad Bartlome admits even he’s surprised that of all the talented soccer players he competed with or against growing up, he’s the one still being paid to play the sport he loves.
“I wouldn’t have pinned it on me to be the guy who kept playing because there were plenty of other good players back then,” said Bartlome, 31.
Bartlome was a late soccer bloomer growing up in football-mad Grass Valley, where he attended Nevada Union High School.
He started playing competitive soccer late, made his first Olympic Development Program team at age 16 and wasn’t always the most dedicated player as a teenager. He was just another good player on a star-studded River City Rush U-19 soccer team that reached the United States Youth Soccer national championship finale in 2001.
“But one of my main qualities is I don’t give up,” said Bartlome (pronounced Bart-LOW-may). “To make a career out of any sport you have to keep working, keep fighting and make a lot of sacrifices.”
Bartlome gave up a more financially lucrative gig in Switzerland, where he played the past eight years, to join the Republic FC, albeit as a role player.
Entering Republic FC’s debut at Bonney Field on Friday against the Colorado Rapids Reserves, Bartlome has played in nine of 15 matches, started four and has a goal and an assist.
The goal came in the 90th minute, a header from a Rodrigo Lopez corner kick, securing a 1-1 tie with Arizona United SC on June 7 in front of a sold-out crowd of more than 20,000 in the last regular-season match played at Hughes Stadium. The timely score extended a then-unbeaten streak to seven matches.
The assist came one match later, a cross that Justin Braun headed into the net to give Republic FC a brief 1-0 lead over the San Jose Earthquakes in the U.S. Open Cup June 11 at Kezar Stadium, a match that San Jose would rally to win 2-1 despite being outplayed.
He calls that match one of the highlights of his career in America, but perhaps not as significant as what happened last season in Europe.
Playing for the BSC Old Boys, a third division Swiss club, he was part of a near-upset of Swiss Super League champion FC Basel in the Swiss Cup, losing 1-0 in overtime despite hitting the post three times and playing a man down through most of the second half. FC Basel twice beat Chelsea FC in Champions League play last season.
That was perhaps his biggest highlight of a nice playing career in Switzerland, though his primary source of income was training, coaching and organizing youth players.
Then he got word that an ambitious soccer team that had formed in Sacramento, was being coached by former MLS star and coach Preki, had good organizational legs and was looking for experienced players.
“I had been away from my family halfway around the world for eight years, so I decided to take a look,” Bartlome said. “But I had a good thing going in Switzerland, so I wasn’t looking to leave.”
The former Oregon State player was impressed with the Republic FC tryouts under Preki and technical director Graham Smith. Everything he heard about the organization was reaffirmed. So he decided to sign, even though it meant taking a pay cut.
“I didn’t come back here for the money, I came back to be closer to my family, that was the No. 1 reason,” said Bartlome, whose parents are big soccer fans, as are his two brothers and two sisters. “But I also could play at a good level, play in front of the Sacramento fans and for this club. Those were all bonuses for me.”
Preki was looking for someone with a strong work ethic, and a good role model for younger players.
“Chad has been a good professional,” Preki said. “He works hard, and he takes advantage of his opportunities when he gets them. He’s been a pleasure to have around with these young guys, showing them how to be a professional every day.”
Bartlome sees bringing a consistency to training as one of his primary roles.
“You get young guys and their (focus) suffers a little bit from time to time,” he said. “I’m here to try to pick the guys’ heads up a little when things aren’t going the way they should be, like right now.”
Bartlome was referring to the team’s 2-0 loss to the OKC Energy FC in Oklahoma City on Saturday that saw a Republic FC player ejected after a brief melee 31 minutes into the match. It was the fifth match this season that a Republic FC player had received a red card and forced the team to play a man down.
“That match flip-flopped on us with the red card,” Bartlome said. “We need to be much more disciplined.”
Bartlome isn’t sure how long he will continue to play, but notes that being with Republic FC could lead to opportunities beyond his playing days. But a return to Switzerland hasn’t been ruled out, either.
Bianca Jauslin, his Swiss girlfriend, moved with him to Sacramento, and now she’s the one who sometimes feels homesick.
“You never know what’s on the horizon,” Bartlome said. “Right now I’m committed to the club, and what they are trying to achieve. It’s amazing how much the city of Sacramento has latched onto the club. Everyone has been all in from the get go.”