Pavle Popara scored in the 16th minute and Republic FC’s inability to score in USL play continued as Orange County Blues FC defeated Sacramento 1-0 in front of an announced sellout of 11,569 Saturday night at Bonney Field.
It marked the fourth consecutive match that Republic FC (2-3-1, seven points) failed to score and extended its losing streak to a franchise-record three matches.
Orange County (3-2-1, 10 points) extended its unbeaten streak to four games.
“It’s really fine margins at the moment,” said Republic FC coach Paul Buckle, who admitted his players are pressing. “I can’t be angry with the players. … It’s a bit like a broken record for us. Every team goes through a rough patch.”
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The Blues put a quick damper on the match with Popara’s early goal, which came after a poor giveaway by Danny Barrera in the midfield. Barrera fell as he tried to backtrack with the ball going right in the path of Popara near the top of the box.
He dribbled between Sacramento defenders Chris Christian and JJ Koval and fired a shot past goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek.
“I think the problem tonight was gifting the goal straightway,” Buckle said. “It was the first goal we’ve conceded in the first half of play. So we gave ourselves a mountain to climb, but I was proud of the way the players kept going.”
It was only the third goal allowed by Republic FC in six matches.
Republic FC couldn’t capitalize on two golden opportunities, one in stoppage time and the other in the first half.
Forward Mackenzie Pridham’s open attempt on the back post from a Kip Colvey cross in the 91st minute was nabbed by Orange County goalkeeper Brandon Miller.
“I don’t know how Prids missed,” Buckle said. “I know he will be angry with that because he’s a box player.”
Republic FC’s best opportunity to equalize in the first half came in the 45th minute on a counterattack off an Orange County corner. Max Alvarez passed the ball into the midfield to Cameron Iwasa, who fought off a Blues FC defender and laid the ball off to Emrah Klimenta on a breakaway. Klimenta made a 25-yard sprint and passed toward Stewart in the box. But Miller, the reigning USL Goalkeeper of the Year, came off his line and blocked Stewart’s attempt as he went flying.
It was a matchup of two teams that have developed a keen rivalry – the series is now 3-3-1 – that is second only to their battles with LA Galaxy II.
It was only enhanced on Saturday with the appearance of former Republic FC player Ivan Mirkovic wearing the captain’s band for Orange County.
Mirkovic, one of the original members of Republic FC, was transferred to Orange County on April 1. He had appeared in 59 matches for Republic FC in his first two seasons and captained Republic FC in its season-opening friendly against the Colorado Rapids on Feb. 13 at Bonney Field, the last match he played in for Sacramento before injuring his ankle in practice.
Mirkovic, renowned for his bulldog attitude, drew a yellow card in the 31st minute after a hard tackle on Stewart.
Mirkovic, who played 81 minutes, was one of the team’s most popular players and he spent time afterward shaking hands and chatting with Republic FC fans. After the match, he wore a Serbian flag given to him by the Tower Bridge Battalion.
“I was nervous before the game and trying not to think about my time in Sacramento,” Mirkovic said. “I was trying to focus on my game and my new team, but it was amazing.
“I really miss this crowd and playing in front of all these people and the Tower Bridge Battalion. I always enjoy it, and it was the same tonight.”
Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP