Paul Buckle couldn’t have asked for a better week in his debut as Republic FC’s new coach.
Sacramento upset visiting English Premier League Sunderland AFC 1-0 in his debut on Tuesday, then went toe to toe with another EPL team in Newcastle United FC on Saturday night in front of an announced sellout of 11,442 at Bonney Field.
Although Newcastle won 1-0 on an own goal, Republic FC took the Magpies to the brink a number of times.
“I think our levels were higher tonight then they were against Sunderland,” said Buckle, who replaced Preki last Sunday. “We come up against a very, very good team, a team that played the game the right way. It was a proper Premiership performance from them, but we still caused them a lot of problems.”
Never miss a local story.
Buckle, who played and coached in England, thought Republic FC deserved at least a draw in an entertaining and wide-open match in which both teams had 15 shots, nine each on goal.
“We looked dangerous tonight,” Buckle said. “We deserved a goal for our troubles.”
New Newcastle coach Steve McClaren started many of the team’s star players. They included goalkeeper Tim Krul, defender Daryl Janmaat, forward Siem de Jong and midfielder Vurnon Anita, all Neatherlands National Team players; France National Team midfielder Moussa Sissoko; and Senegal National Team forward Papiss Cisse.
Buckle said he felt bad for Republic FC defender James Kiffe. His own goal in the 47th minute proved the difference. It came on a sizzling cross from Massadio Haidara that Kiffe inadvertently volleyed into his own net.
“He was in the right place,” Buckle said. “It’s not easy when the ball is on the opposite side for the fullback.”
Sacramento appeared to have the equalizing goal three minutes later, but David Estrada’s shot into the net was nullified for offsides.
Newcastle FC was forced to play the final 25 minutes a man down when Haidara was red-carded for taking down midfielder Danny Barrera with a studs-to-the-chest tackle.
“I saw it coming,” Barrera said. “I knew I was going to have to take it in the chest. Luckily it wasn’t anything serious. ... Unfortunately we couldn’t capitalize after that, but we had a few good chances.”
Barrera’s slick moves, quickness and savvy made him a pest all night for Newcastle.
“We definitely played pretty well considering we allowed one goal in two games against two premier league teams,” said the former UC Santa Barbara standout who signed June 6 with Sacramento.
Barrera played primarily as an outside midfielder under Preki, but he looked comfortable in the center, where Buckle moved him.
“When he came in we spoke about where my best position is, and I told him center midfield,” Barrera said. “But we have a lot of good guys who can play multiple positions. Obviously as a new coach he is trying everyone out in new positions to see what he likes.”
Republic FC kept Newcastle goalkeepers Krul and Freddie Woodman busy throughout the night, peppering the Magpies’ goal with dangerous shots.
Woodman knocked away a couple of Barrera blasts and another by Rodrigo Lopez after coming in for Krul in the second half. He also saved two attempts by second half sub Cameron Iwasa, who had the game-winning goal against Sunderland in Buckle’s first match as coach.
Krul, who played for the Netherlands in the World Cup, was busy in the first half. He had to make a pair of challenging saves – one on a bending Lopez free kick in the upper corner of the net and the other on a Thomas Stewart shot in the box.
Woodman and Krul combined for nine saves. Republic FC goalkeeper Patrick McLain also had a busy night. He, too, had nine saves.
Republic FC will have a two week break before returning to USL play Aug. 1 against the Seattle Sounders 2 at Bonney Field.
“At this point we don’t want a two-week break, we want to keep this momentum going,” Barrera said. “But this is a perfect transition period for us. I think Paul has come in with a great energy and his attention to detail. I think everyone has really embraced him in training, out here (in the game), and they really want to play for him and for the club.”