Local lad Cameron Iwasa picked an opportune time to score his first home pro goal and Paul Buckle selected the perfect opponent to debut against as Republic FC coach.
Subbed in less than a minute earlier, Iwasa, the former Jesuit High School star, scored in the 58th minute as Republic FC upset English Premier League side Sunderland AFC 1-0 in a friendly Tuesday night at Bonney Field.
It marked the first time in team history that Republic FC won a friendly, and it came in just the third day of Buckle’s tenure after replacing Preki as coach.
“I’ve had a lot of proud moments in my football career, but this is right up there,” said Buckle, who has had a long playing and coaching career in England. “To be manager of the club and in my first game at Bonney, I’m just delighted. We deserved to win. ... It’s something we can build on.”
Iwasa, a rookie, entered the match for Kaleemullah late in the 57th minute. His first touch seconds later went to forward Tommy Stewart who passed to Max Alvarez.
Iwasa one-touched Alvarez’ layoff from 20 yards out, with his left-footer skirting past goalkeeper Vito Mannone into the right corner of the net. Iwasa celebrated with a backflip.
“It’s kind of surreal,” said Iwasa, who played at UC Irvine. “The first thing I’m thinking is to come in and get a touch. Then one of my touches ends up being a shot on goal. Fortunately I put it away.”
And the backflip?
“I was hoping I could do it,” Iwasa said. “This was the first goal I scored at home this year. It was a pretty exciting moment, so I thought it was fitting.”
The win was no fluke. Republic FC outshot Sunderland 20-11 and had the advantage in possession.
The team also won without leaders Rodrigo Lopez (right foot) and Justin Braun (left glute), both sidelined with injuries.
“Every one played their part, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Buckle said. “It’s a good sign that when Justin’s out and RoRo’s out, we can play like that.”
Danny Barerra was stellar playing in Lopez’s midfield position. Forwards Kaleemullah, Stewart, Iwasa and Adnan Gabeljic all were dangerous up top.
The all-around strong performance seemed improbable considering last week.
Preki told his players on July 7 that he was stepping down to take a job with a team in the United Kingdom; his new position has yet to be announced. Republic FC then fell 4-1 to Liga MX side Atlas FC on July 8 and 4-0 to the rival LA Galaxy II in Preki’s farewell match Saturday, both at Bonney Field.
“If you look at the tape against Galaxy, the first half was brilliant,” said defensive midfielder Ivan Mirkovic. “We went from brilliant to a disgrace in the second half. With Preki leaving and all the pressure from outside, we were not emotionally stable enough to perform at the highest level and last 90 minutes against Galaxy.”
Mirkovic served as captain for the first time and anchored a defense that posted only its second shutout in the last 11 matches.
“Today we decided don’t pressure them high because obviously they play at a higher level than us,” Mirkovic said. “So we kind of (sat) back and kept our shape. But everything else was the same. We possessed the ball, we moved the ball and when we had the chance we were attacking.”
Goalkeeper Patrick McLain had three saves, none bigger than in the 86th minute when he corralled a dangerous curling shot from Duncan Watmore, the EPL’s U-21 Player of the Year last season.
Iwasa called the win “a huge confidence builder,” especially coming against players of such high caliber.
English national team forward Jermain Defoe and Republic of Ireland defender John O’Shea both started for Sunderland. O’Shea played the first half and Defoe through the first 67 minutes.
“We feel like we can play with anybody, and to really see it happen is huge for us,” Iwasa said.
For Buckle, it wasn’t his first win over an EPL team.
Two years ago, he led Luton Town to an upset of Norwich City in the FA Cup.