It’s been a little more than a year since Sacramento Republic FC made its remarkable run to the USL championship in its debut season.
But this season, the attention moves away from Bonney Field to New York, where the Rochester Rhinos will host the LA Galaxy II on Friday night for the 2015 championship.
The Galaxy II, Republic FC’s rivals, knocked Sacramento out of the playoffs Sept. 26 with a 1-0 first-round victory at Bonney Field. Los Angeles, which finished fifth in the Western Conference during the regular season, went on to defeat the Orange County Blues FC 2-0 and the OKC Energy FC 2-1 to advance to the championship game at 13,768-seat Sahlen Stadium in Rochester.
The Rhinos had the USL’s best regular-season record at 17-1-10 with 61 points. They defeated the New York Red Bulls II 2-0 and Louisville City FC 1-0 in the playoffs.
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It’s a battle of the old and new in the USL. The Rochester franchise has been in existence for 20 years and is the only non-Major League Soccer team to win the U.S. Open Cup (1999) since the MLS was formed 20 years ago. The Rhinos won USL A-League titles in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
The Galaxy II was the first fully supported MLS affiliate to play in the USL last season before seven other MLS-affiliated teams joined the league this year. Two more MLS-affiliates – the Philadelphia Union and Orlando City SC – will come on board next year.
Orlando City SC was a two-time postseason and a three-time regular season champion in the USL before moving to MLS last season.
“I’m amazed at how far this league has come,” said Rochester’s U.S. Hall of Fame coach Bob Lilley, who has coached various teams in the USL since 1997.
The match will be live streamed on ESPN3 as well as the USL’s YouTube channel.
Support for Republic FC – Although Republic FC is USL’s flagship franchise and attendance leader, USL Commissioner Jake Edwards said that as an “aspirational league,” he supports Sacramento’s oft-stated goal of moving from the Division 3 USL into MLS.
“We have five teams that built the brand in the USL and moved on into MLS,” Edwards said during a teleconference Thursday. “If that becomes a reality for them, we’ll 100 percent support them and wish them well.”
The USL added 13 new franchises this year and four more will join the league for 2016. In addition to a new Orlando City team and the Union’s yet to be named franchise, the independent FC Cincinnati and the semi-independent Rio Valley Grande FC of Edinburg, Texas, also are coming on board.
A new Reno franchise will be added in 2017 while the Austin Aztex, which played its first season in the league this year, will be on hiatus next season to resolve stadium issues caused by flooding in Texas earlier this year.
Edwards talked on a number of subjects with the media, including a goal of eventually having all USL teams play in stadiums that seat a minimum of 10,000 spectators. Sacramento, with an average of 11,323 this year, is the only USL franchise that currently averages more than 10,000 fans.
Edwards said the league is working to improve attendance and branding among the MLS-affiliated teams. Four MLS affiliates, including Los Angeles, averaged fewer than 1,000 fans this season.
San Jose reunion – The San Jose Earthquakes are playing host to Sporting Kansas City on Friday night in a game with playoff implications at Avaya Stadium.
It’s also a reunion of sorts for several former area college and high school players.
Forward Adam Jahn (Jesuit High School), forward/midfielder Tommy Thompson (Granite Bay) and forward Quincy Amarikwa (UC Davis) play for the San Jose.
Defender Jalil Anibaba (Davis High) and defender/midfielder Amobi Okugo (Jesuit) and midfielder Connor Hallisey (Granite Bay) are members of Sporting Kansas City.