Republic FC coach Paul Buckle figured that Saturday night’s game against the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros would be wide open.
The first-year Toros are aggressive, speedy and skilled. Unlike many USL teams, they don’t sit back and park the bus.
So when the dust settled on Republic FC’s wild 3-2 win, thanks to Cameron Iwasa’s brace and Emrah Klimenta’s 87th minute game-winning goal, Sacramento (7-3-3, 24 points) had several notable accomplishments in entertaining an announced sellout crowd of 11,569 at Bonney Field.
Iwasa’s first goal, 38 seconds into the match was the quickest goal in Republic FC history and only the third first-half goal for Sacramento in 13 league matches this season.
The former Jesuit High School star’s header eight minutes into the second half from a Danny Barrera cornerkick, was Republic FC’s first USL cornerkick goal since 2014, its inaugural season.
And when Klimenta notched his second game-winning goal of the season, it marked the first time this season that Republic FC scored three goals in a USL match.
The win, which came after the Toros (6-4-4, 22 pts.) twice rallied to tie the match, was Republic FC’s third USL win in a row and extended its league unbeaten streak to seven games. It also moved Sacramento into second place in the Western Conference, one point behind the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2.
“It was huge for us,” said Iwasa, Republic FC’s leading goal scorer with five. “Unfortunately we gave up the lead twice. But we kept showing a lot fight, lot of resiliency to come back. It always feels good to win at home.”
But it didn’t come easy against the Texas side.
The Toros (6-4-4, 22 pts.) twice rallied to tie the match with goals in the 14th and 71st minutes and were threatening even after Klimenta’s goal. Republic FC entered the match with one of the stingiest defenses in the league.
With many fans still trying to find their seats seconds after the game started, Iwasa received a pass from Barrera near midfield, dribbled straight up the gut as a couple of Toros defenders backpedaled and sent a left-footer blast from above the box that hit the inside of the back post, ricocheting into the net.
“It was an incredible goal,” Buckle said. “He is really looking to play now, Cameron Iwasa. I was a bit worried to say somebody’s name, but he’s just got to believe now because that’s what he can do.”
Iwasa, who came close to having a first-half hat trick, scored the first brace of his two-year pro career in the 53rd minute.
He headed Barrera’s cornerkick into the ground a yard n front of Irving, who was unable to get a glove on the curling ball as it found the back of the net.
“We’ve been on a very good run, we’re hot right now,” Iwasa said. “We’ve shown a lot of confidence on the field, there’s a lot of confidence in the locker room.”
Rio Grande’s Memo Rodriguez took advantage of some poor marking by Republic FC to tie the match 1-1 in the 14th minute. Eric Bird tied it again for Rio Grande with a sliding goal inside the box in the 71st minute.
“It was up and down, and a game we didn’t seem to want to win,” Buckle said. “…We couldn’t put them to bed. It was that way all night…Sometimes in the end you have to find a way to win, and we did…But we must learn to manage games better.”
Then it came down to the heady play of Klimenta, Republic FC’s standout outside defender. He took a pass from Iwasa along the right side, saw that Irving was off his line, and sent a shot into near post that Irving couldn’t control as fell across the goal line in a futile attempt for the save.
“Emrah did exactly what we’re looking for,” Buckle said. “He delivered the ball early, put it an area and we got back in front.”
Republic FC had a number of good opportunities to score in outshooting the Toros 14 to 12.
In the 33rd minute , Irving made a split-second diving save off Iwasa’s shot six yards in front of the goal from a cross by Adam Jahn. Just before the halftime whistle, Iwasa put a header off the back post from a Barrera cornerkick.
The two teams entered the night among the top five teams in the Western Conference. While Republic FC was unbeaten in its previous six matches, the Toros had lost just once in their last eight.
“They’re a good side,” Buckle said. “I like the way they play...It was a great atmosphere. Our fans pushed us all the way again, and I’m pleased we were able score three goals.”
The match was part of a doubleheader as Republic FC hosted the first ever women’s match at Bonney Field between Sacramento’s two Women’s Premier Soccer League teams.
The California Storm defeated Primero de Mayo 7-0. Former U.S. Women’s National Team star Brandi Chastain and Brazilian National Team Player Sissi competed for the Storm, then held a 30-minute question and answer session with hundreds of fans after the match.