Republic FC coach and technical director Paul Buckle admits it wasn’t part of his offseason plan.
He didn’t think he’d have to replace three veteran starters and another promising young talent as the popular USL franchise prepares for its third season.
Midfield star Rodrigo Lopez, goalkeeper Patrick McLain, defender Mickey Daly and 19-year-old reserve forward Gabe Gissie decided not to re-up with Sacramento, despite what Buckle said were generous offers.
“We really felt this was the best place for them and that they would have a golden chance of playing (Major League Soccer) with us,” Buckle said. “So I was disappointed to lose those players.”
Buckle said each told him the same thing: They needed to get to MLS sooner rather than later. Republic FC is making a strong bid to join America’s top league but has yet to be awarded a spot.
“We will never stand in a player’s way of moving up,” Buckle said. “I’m still hoping they have left us for bigger and better. They certainly deserve the chance. But my frustration right now is that I don’t see it. I’m hoping they haven’t been misguided or ill-advised because that can happen.”
The 28-year-old Lopez and 27-year-old McLain have yet to announce where they will land. The 28-year-old Daly and Gissie signed last week with another USL team, the new Bethlehem Steel FC affiliate of the MLS Philadelphia Union.
Lopez was the team’s centerpiece and Republic FC’s first signed player. He holds franchise career highs of 26 goals and 19 assists. During Republic FC’s 2014 championship season, Lopez was first-team all-USL and the championship-game MVP. He made the second team last season.
Daly was an unsung mainstay in central defense, earning all-USL second-team honors last season.
Buckle was a huge fan of Gissie, the team’s youngest player, and saw him as someone on the precipice of stardom.
McLain, a former MLS player, played in 24 consecutive USL matches and had 71 saves before a shoulder injury sidelined him late in the season.
Sacramento has 16 players under contract for the coming season with the announcement Tuesday that the club had re-signed midfielder/defender Agustin Cazarez and picked up the option on forward Adnan Gabeljic. Also included on that list is new goalkeeper Evan Newton, who played last season for the USL OKC Energy FC.
Buckle said he anticipates signing between three and six players by the time training camp starts Feb. 1, but he plans to have a lean roster initially.
He and Republic FC Director of Football Graham Smith spent 13 days in the United Kingdom visiting several top-level clubs, including Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Southampton of the English Premier League. Buckle said there may be loan possibilities with one or more United Kingdom clubs, though he wouldn’t identify those teams. But because those clubs and Republic FC play at different times, it makes the arrangement challenging.
“They’ve got players they want to loan out now, but I can’t give them football now,” Buckle said. “A lot can happen between December and February.”
He said there are a handful of English football league veterans who may be interested in coming to Sacramento.
“I like two or three players across the water whose contracts are up in June, but we can’t approach them until January because of the rules,” Buckle said.
He and Smith have identified a handful of players leaving college who he believes could help the club immediately or be worth the investment to develop. A few more players could come from the club’s open tryouts or via free agency. Buckle also thinks the affiliation with the San Jose Earthquakes will be more fruitful this coming year.
“Our message to the fans is that there are a lot of promising players out there,” Buckle said. “We’ve seen a lot of players. We have a lot of irons in the fire. But the one thing we’ve promised ourselves is we will do our homework to see that anyone we bring in fits in.”