Republic FC is on a five-match USL Pro winning streak with a chance to climb into second place entering tonight’s critical match against the Charleston Battery at Bonney Field.
One of the biggest highlights for Republic FC during that streak has been the play of converted forward Chad Bartlome at left back, where he has started the last five matches.
Bartlome, a 31-year-old Nevada County native, has been stellar despite never playing the position in his nine-year professional outdoor career, most of which has been in Switzerland.
“If you told me that at the beginning of the season I’d be at back, I would have said you’ve got to be crazy,” said Bartlome, who started just three times in his previous 12 USL Pro matches. “But it’s working out well. I get the ball more, and I’m playing 90 minutes, which hasn’t always been the case before.
“It’s just a whole different way of thinking and playing the game. So at 31, to kind of change my style, it’s fun.”
The back line of Bartlome, Emrah Klimenta, Mickey Daly and Nemenja Vukovic has allowed three goals in those five matches, while backup goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek made a handful of spectacular saves in Republic FC’s 2-0 win over the Wilmington Hammerheads last Wednesday. During the streak, Republic FC has allowed just three goals.
“Chad has been getting better and better, and it’s nice to see,” said Preki, Republic FC’s coach. “It’s nice to see someone who has never played a position like that get accustomed and comfortable. Hopefully that will continue.”
During the winning streak, the offense has been strong, too, with 17 goals. Forward Thomas Stewart has scored six of his team-high 11 USL Pro goals during that span, and midfielder Rodrigo Lopez has contributed two goals and two assists.
Stewart is tied with two other players for fourth in USL Pro with 25 points. Lopez is seventh with 22 points.
Republic FC (15-6-3, 48 points), unbeaten in its last seven league matches, can move into second place ahead of the Richmond Kickers (13-2-10, 49 points) with a victory tonight. A tie would draw Sacramento even with Richmond, which lost 3-2 to first-place Orlando City SC (17-3-4, 55 points) on Saturday in Virginia.
But Charleston (9-8-8, 35 points), one of USL Pro’s venerable clubs, is playing well, too, and is within four points of a playoff berth. The fifth-place Battery is unbeaten in its last eight matches and has a three-match winning streak, including 2-0 over the OKC Energy on Sunday.
The South Carolina team has outscored its opponents 13-6 during that span, with midfielder Jose Cuevas, a Californian, recording three goals and three assists. The Battery’s defense is led by captain Colin Falvey, the reigning USL Pro Defender of the Year, and John Wilson, 36, a former Major League Soccer player who has spent much of his career with Charleston, winner of three USL championships, including in 2012.
“They’re obviously a good team, an experienced team that has been in this league for a long time,” Preki said. “We know it’s going to be a hard game.”