Two Republic FC Academy teams will make their inaugural home debut against the Real Salt Lake-Arizona Academy on Saturday at Cosumnes River College.
The 17/18s will play at 10 a.m. followed by the 15/16s at 12:30 p.m.
“Everyone’s excited,” said Republic FC Academy director Rod Underwood. “The players are looking forward to it. It’s definitely been an undertaking, but it’s great that these kids will have the opportunity to play consistently with like players.”
Some 67 players representing 14 youth clubs and 43 area schools are involved in the program, which also includes a 13/14 team. Each squad is scheduled to play a 30-match season that will run through June. All coaching, training and travel expenses are covered by Republic FC.
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Republic FC is part of U.S. Soccer Development Academy system that strives to increase the level of skill and technical savvy among the nation’s top youth players. The goal is to improve the quality of play at the college, pro and national team levels.
Sacramento is one of only three USL independent teams that have their own academy programs.
Republic FC’s two older teams are competing in the West Conference against Major League Soccer and independent soccer academies in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Canada.
Both older teams opened their seasons last weekend on the road.
The 17/18s, coached by Benjamin Ziemer, fell 5-3 to the Crossfire Premier on Saturday in Redmond, Wash., then tied the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2-2 on Sunday in Canada. The 14/15s, coached by Brian Willey, beat the Crossfire Premier 3-1 and tied Vancouver 1-1. The 13/14s, coached by Simon Elliott, tied the San Jose Earthquakes 13/14 2-2 in their debut on Sept. 5 at Cosumnes River College.
Among the players competing for the 17/18s is defender David Burns from El Dorado Hills. In January he competed for the U.S. Men’s National U-18 Team in the Copa Chivas Tournament in Guadalajara, Mexico. He also was named one of the 11 best U17/18 West Conference players last season while playing for the San Juan Academy.
Underwood said the primary goal of its academy teams will be player development. Winning matches is secondary.
“Development is a cross section of a lot of things: Technical, tactical, physical,” he said. “If you are doing all those things right, winning is usually a byproduct of that.”
Although players have been training together for seven weeks, they’ve already had a chance to work with Republic FC players Gilberto and Octavio Guzman as they rehab from knee injuries.
Underwood said some of the academy players have been invited to participate Republic FC training sessions.
While most of the academy players are likely to go on to college, Underwood said it also will be a pathway to Republic FC’s top team.
“There is no timetable as far as signing players,” Underwood said. “We’ll know more as we continue to watch these kids develop. But ultimately it’s a decision for the kids and their parents to make.”
Republic FC coach and technical director Paul Buckle, who revived a struggling youth academy program while in New York City two years ago, is ecstatic about the progress Republic FC has made in such a short time.
“It’s great, it’s fantastic,” said Buckle, who replaced Preki as coach in early July. “We feel like a proper football club. We’ve got a buzz in the academy that’s supporting the first team. So it’s going to be a great day tomorrow when we see the academy play during the day and the first team play (vs. Arizona United SC) in the evening.”