Republic FC clinched a berth in the USL Pro playoffs Sunday as substitute Thomas Stewart scored three second-half goals in a 6-1 victory over Orange County Blues FC in Irvine, the team reported.
Republic FC (14-6-3) is in third place with 45 points and has won a league-high seven road matches.
Stewart achieved Republic FC’s first hat trick during the team’s five-goal second half.
Seven minutes after entering, Stewart scored his first goal in the 68th minute. He received a pass from Rodrigo Lopez on the left side and dribbled before stopping and sending the ball into the upper-left corner of the goal past stunned goalkeeper Aaron Perez, giving Republic FC a 4-1 lead.
Stewart struck again in the 72nd minute. He maneuvered through the defense and sent a low shot past Perez and into the lower-right corner of the net.
Finally, in the 90th minute, Stewart took a pass from fellow substitute Gabe Gissie and drove down the left side. Stewart stopped, brought the ball to his right foot and sent a rolling ball into the net near the far post.
“It’s my job to score, and it’s a very nice achievement,” Stewart said of his hat trick.
Republic FC controlled the ball for much of the first half, pressuring the Orange County defense, but didn’t break through until the 38th minute, when Nemanja Vukovic scored on a rebound for a 1-0 lead.
Orange County tied it in the 48th minute on Allan Russell’s penalty kick. Russell was brought down by Mickey Daly inside the box.
Republic FC regained the lead in the 54th minute when Daly scored following Max Alvarez’s looping free kick into the middle of the box. Two minutes later, Alvarez headed the ball to an onrushing Adam Jahn, who scored on a jumping kick.
“We dominated the game,” Stewart said. “It was a disappointment to concede the penalty, but we responded well.
“Now the biggest thing is concentration. We want to get as high as we can in the league to gain home-field advantage.”