They used to play for the other side and loved coming to Sacramento to try to thwart the raucous sellout crowds that rooted for Republic FC at Bonney Field.
Now goalkeeper Evan Newton and defender Chris Christian hope to help Republic FC re-establish its USL dominance when it plays at its Cal Expo stadium.
The third-year franchise had an impressive 16-2-2 home-field run that started during its 2014 USL championship season and carried into the first three league matches last season. But then Republic FC lost its mojo, going 4-5-3 the rest of the season at home, including a 1-0 opening-round playoff loss to LA Galaxy II.
Newton, who played for Arizona United SC in 2014 and OKC Energy FC last season, said teams looked forward to playing at the USL attendance record-setter after an initial period of adjustment.
That first year, no one knew what Republic FC was going to bring as far as a team and the fan base. They came out firing on all cylinders and had a great year.
Evan Newton, Republic FC goalkeeper
“That first year, no one knew what Republic FC was going to bring as far as a team and the fan base,” Newton said. “They came out firing on all cylinders and had a great year.”
Newton played in front of a sellout crowd of more than 20,000 when Arizona tied Republic FC 1-1 in one of four matches played at Hughes Stadium while Bonney Field was under construction. He played in Arizona’s 1-0 loss later that season and Oklahoma City’s 2-1 loss last season, both at sold-out Bonney Field.
“By last season, everybody knew they were playing in arguably the best atmosphere in the league and that it was going to be a tough game,” Newton said. “So we looked forward to coming here and trying to spoil the party.”
Even with Sacramento dominating possession and outshooting opponents, it stumbled at home last season in losses to the Orange County Blues FC, the Galaxy, the Austin Aztex and the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.
Teams would “park the bus,” as Republic FC coach Paul Buckle likes to call it.
That was Colorado Springs’ strategy, Christian said. The Switchbacks scored three minutes into the match, then held off Republic FC for a 1-0 victory, denying them a much-needed three points.
“I had heard Sacramento was the best USL team around,” said Christian, who played most of 2015 with the North American Soccer League Atlanta Silverbacks FC before being loaned to Colorado Springs. “I was told to expect a big, loud crowd and that was exactly the atmosphere we got. ... Once we got the early goal, we were playing three center backs and bunkered down. It was a tough, intense game, but a great atmosphere.”
Republic FC has added more seats at Bonney Field in an attempt to set the USL attendance record for a third consecutive season, and Newton expects every home match will feel like playing for a championship.
We know how the opposition comes here and sits in and makes things difficult. I don’t think there will be any change there this season. So we’re going to have to find ways of winning games here by being patient ... and keeping our shape, making sure that we trust ourselves that the game is 90-plus minutes and that we are able to score at any time.
Paul Buckle, Republic FC coach
“Every team that comes in here is going to have a chip on its shoulder,” Newton said.
Buckle said Republic FC will need to be cunning in its play against USL sides that continue to improve each season.
“We know how the opposition comes here and sits in and makes things difficult,” Buckle said. “I don’t think there will be any change there this season. So we’re going to have to find ways of winning games here by being patient ... and keeping our shape, making sure that we trust ourselves that the game is 90-plus minutes and that we are able to score at any time.”
Christian helped Colorado Springs earn a playoff berth last season, and now he wants to be a part of a championship team. He thinks Republic FC has the ingredients.
“Everything is top quality here,” said Christian, who helped Republic FC to a 1-0 season-opening victory over Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Friday. “So all we need is to continue what we started in the preseason by working hard for one another. That’s what is going to help us get shutouts, score goals, win games and, hopefully, lead to a championship.”