Republic FC finds itself in a nice position entering Saturday’s match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 at Bonney Field.
Sacramento is in first place and playing its best soccer of the season. It is unbeaten in its past six matches, including three consecutive wins.
If Republic FC (12-6-7, 43 points) wins the final five matches of the regular season, it will finish atop the USL Western Conference and potentially host three playoff games.
But those five matches aren’t expected to be easy. Third-place Vancouver (11-6-7, 40 points) is just three points out of first place and has played one fewer conference game than Sacramento.
Then Republic FC must host the defending conference champion Orange County Blues FC on Sept. 3, a tough opponent that Sacramento beat on the road Wednesday for the first time in more than two years.
Also awaiting Sacramento are back-to-back matches against rival Los Angeles Galaxy II on the road Sept. 10 and at home Sept. 17 before the regular-season finale at last-place Tulsa on Sept. 24.
But Sacramento is confident. With a versatile lineup, Republic FC has scored nine goals and posted two shutouts in its past three matches.
“We got the job done the last three games, so we are on a decent run right now,” said forward Cameron Iwasa. “The biggest thing is we are playing well. They are not lucky wins. We feel we have outplayed the three teams, and it feels like we are getting hot at the perfect time.”
No one has been hotter than Iwasa, a second-year pro from Jesuit High School.
Iwasa has scored four goals in the past three matches, including the game winner in the 76th minute in a 1-0 win over Blues FC that came on the UC Irvinepitch where he played in college.
That goal also was Iwasa’s club-leading 11th of the USL season, trying him for the club league record set in 2014 by Thomas Stewart. Iwasa also moved into a three-way tie for third among USL goal scorers. He trails Galaxy II’s Jack McBean (15) and Louisville City FC’s Jon Chandler Hoffman (14).
Iwasa could be in line for scoring opportunities with Republic FC’s addition of imposing 6-foot-3 striker Carlton Cole.
The former Chelsea and West Ham player went through his first full training session with the team Friday. Coach Paul Buckle said Cole handled it well and that he plans to use him on Saturday.
“For me, personally, it will be neat to have a big target striker to play off of – he’s huge,” Iwasa said. “So it’s a whole new dimension for us and gives us a different look in the attack.”
Vancouver appears to have made a counter move to Republic FC’s signing of Cole. The team’s parent club announced Thursday that it had terminated the Major League Soccer contract of veteran center defender Pa-Modou Kah so he could sign with its USL team as a player/coach. The 36-year-old Kah has played more than 400 professional matches, including 33 with Vancouver’s top team since signing with the Whitecaps last year.
Notes – Buckle said he doesn’t expect to have San Jose Earthquakes loan player Tommy Thompson on Saturday, ending a streak of four consecutive matches that the former Granite Bay High star played for Republic FC. He had three assists and a goal in that stretch. San Jose is playing at the Columbus Crew on Saturday, and Buckle said Thompson may be in the 18 for the Earthquakes.
▪ Buckle noted that Octavio Guzman, who has played all four midfield positions and forward this season, also performed well at right back the past two matches. But with Thompson unavailable, Buckle said he may return Guzman to the midfield if he thinks new defender Elliott Hord is ready Saturday. The former UC Davis standout made his Sacramento debut in the 86th minute against OC Blues FC.
Buckle has played musical chairs at right back since Republic FC career minutes leader, Emrah Klimenta, suffered a season-ending knee injury July 2.