Re-energize affiliation – At least eight MLS players on loan from San Jose and Portland contributed to Sacramento’s success in its 2014 inaugural championship season. Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson was with the team all season and was one of the league’s best when healthy. Earthquakes forward Adam Jahn played most of the year in his hometown of Sacramento and scored seven goals. This season, San Jose’s JJ Koval, Tommy Thompson and Mark Sherrod played huge roles in a pivotal 3-1 win over the Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Aug 29. But that was Koval’s only appearance, and Thompson, a former Granite Bay High star, played in just two matches, and neither trained with the team. Republic FC coach Paul Buckle must persuade Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear of the mutual benefit of embedding a handful of their up-and-coming players with Republic FC for long-haul development.
Make home field an advantage, again – Republic FC went 13-2-2 in home USL regular-season and playoff matches at Hughes Stadium and Bonney Field en route to the league title in 2014. But Sacramento was 7-5-3 at home this year, including its first-round playoff loss to LA Galaxy II. Republic FC players no longer can take having a huge, noisy home crowd behind it for granted. Opposing teams love the electric atmosphere, too, and no longer are wide-eyed and intimidated by the taunting Tower Bridge Battalion.
Score first, score quickly – Republic FC players expressed frustration with opponents “parking the bus,” a defensive-minded strategy of waiting long stretches to counter-attack that sometimes was backbreakingly effective. The strategy won’t work if Sacramento strikes early and improves its goal-scoring efficiency while continuing to improve defensively under Buckle.
Find a go-to leader – Rodrigo Lopez was one of the USL’s most dynamic players during the 2014 season with his monumental “Miracle at Bonney” hat trick against Galaxy II in the USL playoff semifinals and many other highlights during the club’s remarkable debut season. The veteran midfielder was at it again through the first half this season and won the Goal of the Month award in April, May and June. If the creative Lopez leaves, Buckle must find a new charismatic difference maker.
Make set plays a potent weapon – Republic FC scored three goals on free kicks but failed to convert on all 161 of its corner kicks during USL play. Buckle says players must be more “ruthless” on set plays. “It’s about trusting that the ball is going to be delivered to an area and then making it yours,” Buckle said. “I want my center backs getting five or six goals off set pieces.”