Former English Premier League veteran Carlton Cole made his Republic FC debut and coach Paul Buckle pulled out all stops in trying to get a win but Sacramento settled for a 0-0 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 in front of an announced sellout of 11,569 Saturday night at Bonney Field.
The tie extended Republic FC’s unbeaten streak to seven matches, but snapped its three-game winning streak. It was Republic FC’s third consecutive shutout.
Republic FC (12-6-8, 44 points) remained in first place in the Western Conference, two points ahead of the surging Rio Grande Valley Toros FC (11-5-9, 42 pts.) and three up on Vancouver (11-6-8, 41 pts).
Cole, who played 13 seasons in the EPL, entered in the 77th minute to a stirring greeting from the crowd. The forward brought many to their feet in the 87th minute when his diving toe poke near the goal was blocked by Vancouver goalkeeper Spencer Richey.
“I think it was a buzz for the crowd, seeing an ex-Premier League player come on and put a Sacramento shirt on,” Buckle said. “He’s someone of value. It’s not something for show.”
He said the short-term plan is to utilize Cole in the late stages of games until he gets match fit.
“The one thing that’s good for us, if you saw the last 15 minutes, we were able to hit balls on the back post,” Buckle said. “He’s made a living scoring goals on the back post. Even in the short space of time, we managed to find him.”
Republic FC outshot Vancouver 17-7 and Buckle gambled in trying to get a win instead of a draw by playing five forwards in the late stages of the match.
“I think I scared the life out of my staff tonight,” Buckle said. “(They were asking) what are we doing? We are trying to win the game. Normally in a game like that, where you dominate the game with so many chances and a lot of possession, it flips on you and you get picked off. I wanted to change the dynamic. I felt to the very end we were looking like the team most likely to score.”
Still, Vancouver cooled off Republic FC forward Cameron Iwasa, who had four goals in the previous three matches.
Iwasa, looking to become Republic FC’s all-time single-season USL goalscorer, barely missed twice in the first half in getting his 12th goal.
His attempt from inside the center of the box in the 21st minute hit the right post, then his left-side blast in the 38th minute ricocheted off the crossbar.
Iwasa’s two attempts were among a half dozen good opportunities for Republic FC in the first 45 minutes as it outshot Vancouver 9 to 1. That included Richey’s diving save of JJ Koval’s blast in the 20th minute.
Republic FC continued to pressure Vancouver in the second half. A James Kiffe blast in the 64th minute was deflected above the crossbar. Danny Barrera hit blasts just wide of net in the 73rd and 88th minutes.
Saturday’s game marked the first time in five games that Republic FC played without dynamic midfielder Tommy Thompson, a loan player from the San Jose Earthquakes who had accounted for three assists and a goal during that span. He went with the ‘Quakes to Columbus, but did not see action in Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the Crew.
So Buckle gave recent signing and former UC Davis player Elliott Hord his first start at right back. Octavio Guzman, who played that position the previous two matches, moved into the midfield.
Buckle was impressed with Hord, who was signed from the Premier Development League Fresno Fuego.
“I thought Elliott at right back was fantastic for his debut,” Buckle said. “I think we have found a real player there, very good going forward. Clever, intelligent, understood when to deliver and when to play.”
Hord was an invitational trialist with Republic FC in 2014 but did not make the team that season. He said he loves his second-chance opportunity and getting to play at Bonney Field.
“The atmosphere was electric,” Hord said. “It was a weird feeling, I can’t really explain it. To be surrounded by so many people and the positive vibes of the fans. I just got a lot of good feedback from by teammates. I was emotional coming off the field. It’s a big step for me.”
This was the third and final match of the regular season between Republic and the Whitecaps FC 2.The two teams played to a scoreless draw on April 10 and Vancouver scored a late goal to beat Republic FC 2-1 on July 24.
Sacramento plays the Orange County Blues FC next Saturday at Bonney Field.