Although Republic FC president Warren Smith would have liked to maintain affiliation with the San Jose Earthquakes until Sacramento’s anticipated acceptance into Major League Soccer, he understands the move.
The Earthquakes announced Tuesday they signed a two-year affiliation with USL expansion Reno 1868 FC beginning in the 2017 season. The move will end San Jose’s three-year affiliation with Republic FC after the current season.
“I would have loved for it to continue,” Smith said. “But they’ve got needs of their own, and we’ve got to be respectful of that. They want to grow a USL team in their own way.”
San Jose club president David Kaval had indicated in an interview with The Bee earlier this season that the franchise might look at other options for an affiliation, because Republic FC is on track to join MLS and become an Earthquakes rival. Announcement of Republic FC’s entry as an MLS expansion franchise could come sometime later this year.
“Sacramento Republic FC has been a tremendous partner over the past (three) seasons and we wish them great success,” Kaval said in a prepared statement. “The affiliation with Reno 1868 allows our club to have control over all aspects of the technical side of the club, which is critical for our overall player development strategy. We plan to put a very competitive team on the field next season and beyond for the Reno community.”
San Jose will lead all aspects of soccer operations, while Reno will oversee the business side, including corporate partnerships, ticket sales and marketing. It’s similar to an arrangement that the first-year Rio Grande Valley Toros FC has with the MLS Houston Dynamo.
For the past three seasons, Earthquakes players have been integral to Republic FC’s success while on loan with Sacramento, and that’s expected to continue this season.
San Jose forward Adam Jahn was a key member of Republic FC’s inaugural team in 2014 that won the USL championship, and he has played in seven USL matches and scored two game-winning goals this season. Other Earthquakes who have played on loan with Sacramento include midfielder Tommy Thompson the past three seasons and forward Mark Sherrod and defender Kip Colvey this season.
Smith said it is possible that Republic FC will also field a USL expansion team if it becomes an MLS franchise. But he couldn’t offer specifics.
“Everything is contingent upon when we come into the league, if we are that fortunate,” Smith said. “Then we will evaluate at that point.”
Ten MLS teams operate USL teams. But the on- and off-field success of the first-year Rio Grande Valley Toros FC is becoming the league’s model for growing attendance and marketing opportunities. Rio Grande plays in Edinburg, Texas, more than five hours from Houston. Reno is a four-hour drive from San Jose.
The Portland Timbers, who also had an affiliation with Republic FC in 2014 and is in the second year of operating a USL team, might relocate the development club from Portland to Boise, Idaho. Seattle also is considering moving its second team to Tacoma.
Smith said location will be a major decision if Republic FC establishes a second team.
“Ideally the best for us is to have the USL team play in a place where we could sell out the new facility (in the downtown railyards) and hopefully sell out the facility for the USL. Does that mean in the market? Does that mean in a different market? Or does that mean an affiliation?
“Right now we own an asset (Bonney Field) that doesn’t make sense for us to dispose of. So we’ll want to see how we use this to our best advantage.”
Smith said there are no current discussions of forging a new short-term affiliation with another MLS team.
“We haven’t even entertained it right now,” Smith said. “Right now our focus is this season and how do we continue on the business plan and how we continue on the field, and, obviously, making our case to MLS. We’ve known this was coming and that (San Jose) was seeking it, but we’ve got a lot more flexibility than most clubs have for us to come up with a solution. We’ll definitely look at it before the end of the season”