Republic FC coach Paul Buckle says the goal this year will be to score more goals.
Last year, Sacramento failed to score a goal in its final three matches, including a 1-0 playoff loss to Los Angeles Galaxy II at Bonney Field. Republic FC, the defending USL champion, lost despite outshooting Los Angeles 15-3.
Buckle says his forwards must be more productive.
“We are going to need two players on the front line who have to hit in double figures – end of story,” Buckle said. “That’s what they are paid to do.”
Justin Braun and Tommy Stewart were Republic FC’s top scorers among forwards last season. They each had eight goals and combined for 11 in USL play.
Midfielder Rodrigo Lopez, who decided in October not to return for a third season, led Sacramento in scoring with 12 goals, 10 in USL matches. He had a team-high 14 goals during the 2014 championship season.
Buckle expects Stewart to return to his 2014 form when he scored 13 goals. The Northern Ireland native missed the early part of 2015 season recovering from foot surgery, then fell out of favor and rode the bench under Preki. Buckle moved Stewart back into a starting role when he took over.
But Buckle says the team’s intrigue player for next season could be 6-foot-3, 197-pound forward Adnan Gabeljic – if he stays with the team.
Gabeljic had five goals last season, and his combination of size, power and speed impressed Buckle. Gabeljic, 23, had a hat trick in Republic FC’s win over Chula Vista FC in the U.S. Open Cup, but he played just 164 minutes in 10 games and had just two goals in USL matches because of a logjam at forward.
“We had two strikers (Stewart and Braun) up front who were regular stars for us, and we were making a playoff push when I came in, so we found it difficult to get him in,” Buckle said. “But he’s strong, quick and can really smash the ball.”
Buckle expects Gabeljic to be in playing shape when Republic FC’s training camp begins Feb. 1. The former Saint Louis University standout trained this winter with Club Atlas of Liga MX. He caught the eye of the team’s coaches during Club Atlas’ friendly with Republic FC in July.
“They like him a lot,” Buckle said. “But if they like him, they are going to have to satisfy us financially. There is no way we are going to give Adnan away.”
Republic FC had seven forwards last season – too many, as far as Buckle is concerned.
Republic FC has four forwards on its 18-man roster – Braun, Stewart, Gabeljic and Cameron Iwasa – and Buckle said that might be enough, barring injuries.
Buckle wanted promising forward Gabe Gissie, 19, to return, but he signed with Bethlehem Steel FC, a new affiliate of the Philadelphia Union of MLS. Buckle decided not to bring back Pakistani national team captain Kaleemullah, who played in nine matches last season and recently signed with Tulsa Roughnecks FC of the USL.
“Kaleem has got a good future ahead of him, but I couldn’t offer him the starting place he wanted and was looking for now in his career,” Buckle said.
Buckle said he likes to keep a lean roster, but he won’t shy away from bringing in a player with a knack for finding the net.
He pointed to the impact Jamie Vardy is having this season for surprising Leicester City FC. Vardy and winger Riyad Mahrez have combined for 28 goals halfway through the season.
When Buckle managed Luton Town, he had to game-plan for Vardy when the gifted forward played for then league rival Fleetwood Town FC.
“That’s why Vardy’s team is doing so well,” Buckle said. “They’ve got two players scoring goals off the backs of a team that is strong behind them. You get two players who can score 13 to 20 goals each, and you are going to be right there (playing for a championship).”
RoRo to play in Mexico – Lopez, 28, has announced that he has signed a contract with Celaya FC, a second division Mexican team. Lopez is a member of a squad that has a number of players on loan from teams in Liga MX, Mexico’s top professional soccer division.
Celaya FC is scheduled to play the Seattle Sounders in a friendly Feb. 9 in Tucson.