To put his first USL opening-night start into perspective, Republic FC goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek reflected on the journey: years training and honing his skills as a backup; moves from one financially struggling team to another; low-paying odd jobs and countless youth coaching gigs that supported his drive to be a professional soccer player.
That journey made the 1-0 victory over the Sounders 2 in Seattle on March 25 even sweeter for the team’s No. 1 goalkeeper and one of its most popular players.
“It’s been three years of hard work, so I was happy to be rewarded with the start,” said Jakubek, who at 36 is the oldest player in the 29-team USL. “The outcome was great. The team in front of me played fantastic.”
Signed as an insurance policy after an invitational tryout despite being out of pro soccer for a couple of seasons, Jakubek is proving that with patience and a lot of hard work, it’s never too late to make an impact.
“I think that being from the area and having the opportunity to play in front of my friends, family, the guys I used to play Sunday league with and the kids I coach and train really motivates me,” Jakubek said. “I’m passionate about what I do, whether I’m on the bench cheering for my teammates or in the game. Why wouldn’t you? This is the best job in the world, and it’s the most fun I have had.”
It’s been quite an odyssey for Jakubek since his high school days in Lodi. He was a first-team All-American who helped lead Chico State to the NCAA Division II championship in 2003; one of his teammates was Chris Wondolowski, the San Jose Earthquakes and U.S. national team forward.
Jakubek played a couple of indoor seasons for the defunct California Cougars, had a brief cup of coffee with the Major League Soccer Columbus Crew and spent some time with the short-lived California Victory, the San Francisco-based USL franchise. He even played two seasons as a field player for a fourth-tier pro team in his native Poland.
He was coaching at a community college in San Diego in 2013 when he heard Sacramento was launching a USL team.
Jakubek was signed to play behind Jake Gleeson during Sacramento’s inaugural season, but because of injuries to the Portland Timbers’ loan player, Jakubek started 16 matches during the team’s USL championship run.
Jakubek was on the bench most of last season, backing up Patrick McLain, now with the MLS Chicago Fire. But when McLain was sidelined by a shoulder injury late in the season, Jakubek had 11 saves and allowed one goal in four regular-season matches to help Sacramento reach the postseason.
“Dominik was superb for me last season,” Republic FC coach Paul Buckle said. “To wait as long as he did and train as hard as he did, I know how difficult that can be. Now he’s got his opportunity, and I have total faith in him.”
Director of football Graham Smith, a former higher-level goalkeeper in England, knew he had a nugget when he signed Jakubek.
“Dominik has amazing character, amazing resilience and enthusiasm,” Smith said. “He’s been an unsung hero and has made some vital saves. As a goalkeeper, he is like a bottle of wine. He has matured as he has gotten older.”
Jakubek knows his hold on the position is tenuous. In the offseason, Republic FC signed former San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper and USL veteran Evan Newton, who excelled in losses to the Colorado Rapids and Earthquakes in February friendlies while Jakubek recovered from a neck injury.
Jakubek credits Newton and goalkeeper trainer Simon Sheppard for “keeping me on my toes.”
Newton isn’t surprised Jakubek still has the passion and is able to perform at a high level.
“He takes care of his body by doing Pilates and yoga,” Newton said. “As a goalkeeper, if you take care of yourself and you are fortunate with injuries, you can usually last until your late 30s.”
Jakubek believes he can play beyond that, but whether that’s as a starter or a reserve won’t affect his role as one of the team’s ambassadors. He usually participates in Republic FC community events, including shaving his head for a recent St. Baldrick’s Day fundraiser for childhood cancer.
He still coaches and trains players in two area youth soccer clubs, where he also knows he’s developing future fans, if not a future player or two for the franchise that likely will be in Major League Soccer by the time they become adults.
“Now the kids see our team and say, ‘Oh, Wow! I want to be a part of that,’ ” Jakubek said. “That is what’s most important about Republic. It gives kids a chance to fulfill their (dreams). I wish we had that when I was a youth. But it’s here now.”
Match at a glance
REPUBLIC FC VS ARIZONA UNITED SC
- When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: Bonney Field
- TV: Ch. 31
- The skinny: The biggest question for Republic FC in its USL home opener is how it will fare without San Jose Earthquakes loan players Tommy Thompson and Adam Jahn. Both played key roles in Sacramento’s 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders 2 on March 25, but the shorthanded Earthquakes needed them to stay in San Jose for their match Saturday against D.C. United. San Jose coach Dominic Kinnear instead loaned forward Mark Sherrod, a third-year pro who played in six matches for Republic FC last season. Arizona United is 1-1 for new coach Frankie Yallop, the former two-time Major League Soccer Coach of the Year. Arizona lost its opener 2-0 to the LA Galaxy II, then beat Seattle 2-0 on Wednesday behind Chris Cortez’ goal and assist. United is a veteran team, featuring several players with MLS experience led by forward Long Tan and midfielder Blair Gavin.