For a forward who hasn’t scored in the run of play since last season, it might have been tempting for Republic FC’s Thomas Stewart to try to take the shot when he was inside the box in the 62nd minute last Saturday against the rival LA Galaxy II.
But the veteran flicked the cross from Emrah Klimenta with his back heel to a wide open Harry Williams coming from Stewart’s backside. Williams put a well-placed left-footer past the keeper for an insurance goal in Republic FC’s 2-0 win in Carson.
It was a huge goal in more ways than one.
It was Sacramento’s first multigoal game of the season and ended a four-match scoreless streak.
It was also the 20-year-old Williams’ first USL goal.
Stewart said he was thinking pass all the way.
“I knew Harry was making a run in behind me,” he said. “Luckily the ball came in fast, so I was able to make an instinctive pass. When a ball is played in that fast at that speed, it’s all a big decision. Thankfully it came off.”
Stewart was pleased he could assist on Williams’ first American regular-season goal.
“Harry is a great lad, a good friend of mine,” he said. “Obviously it was great to see him score because we haven’t been scoring freely right now. So it was a great lift for him and for the club right now.”
Stewart, 29, knows how memorable a first goal can be.
September will mark the 10th anniversary of his first professional goal. It came in his first match for Linfield FC, a team with a passionate fan base in his native Northern Ireland.
“As far as I remember, I was running down the left-hand side and the ball was played to me and I took a touch and hit it (past) the keeper,” Stewart said. “It was nice to see it hit the back of the net. ... We won 4-1 or 4-2, and it was a good team performance and a lot of fans came to the game.”
Stewart has scored 73 goals during his pro career that included a couple of stints with the Shamrock Rovers, the Irish powerhouse that has won a record 17 League of Ireland championships.
Stewart has scored 22 goals since he joined Republic FC, including a penalty kick goal in the season opener against the Seattle Sounders 2. He had a team-high 11 USL goals – 13 overall – in helping Republic FC win the USL championship in its inaugural season in 2014.
Stewart scored eight goals last season and became the first player from Northern Ireland to tally a hat trick in U.S. Open Cup history in Sacramento’s 4-2 win over the Sonoma County Sol FC last May.
But he had just three goals in USL play during an injury-marred season that included a stint in Preki’s doghouse for what the then-Republic FC coach perceived as unproductive play.
Stewart has scored once this season, on a penalty kick in Republic FC’s 1-0 league-opening win March 25 at the Seattle Sounders FC 2, the team Republic FC hosts Saturday night at Bonney Field.
Suffice to say, Republic FC fans and coach Paul Buckle are looking for more from Stewart.
“He’s paid to score goals,” Buckle said. “He’s got to score goals for us.”
Stewart hopes the Galaxy II victory will propel Republic FC in a more positive direction.
“I don’t believe there is a better team in the league than us,” he said. “Even the top teams go through a sticky spell, so maybe Galaxy II gets us going. I feel good about the team; I feel good about myself.”
MATCH AT A GLANCE
REPUBLIC FC VS. SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC 2
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bonney Field
The skinny: The Seattle Sounders affiliate’s roster has been in flux since the start of the season as players have shuttled in and out of the team. It’s one reason the Sounders 2 (1-4-3, 6 points) are in last place in the 15-team Western Conference, despite having played all but one of their eight matches at home. Several of the Sounders 2 stalwarts are on loan from the top team, including defender Tony Alfaro and 19-year-old forward Victor Mansaray, a Sounders FC Homegrown player who has scored two goals. Republic FC (3-3-1, 10 points) hopes to build off its 2-0 win last Saturday at the LA Galaxy II that snapped a four-match scoreless streak and three-match losing steak. Sacramento’s offense should get a boost with forward Adam Jahn and midfielder Tommy Thompson on loan to Republic FC for the weekend. Republic FC holds a 3-1-0 record in the series with the second-year Sounders 2.