Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Pro soccer would burnish Sacramento’s sports reputation

Sacramento is on a sports winning streak that has nothing to do with the Kings.

On Tuesday, the owners of Sacramento Republic FC, the minor league soccer team set to begin play in March, gathered at the midtown bistro Hot Italian to raise their glasses for a toast wrapped in an ambitious goal: Land a Major League Soccer franchise for downtown Sacramento.

“Our goal is to be in MLS by 2016,” said Warren Smith, president of Sacramento Republic. “If Orlando (Florida) can do it, so can we.”

Orlando was just awarded the 21st MLS franchise after a successful run in USL Pro, a league one developmental step below MLS and the one in which Sacramento Republic will play its games. Smith and his group have already sold 2,500 season tickets for the Republic and are in the process of establishing their home field at the Cal Expo fairgrounds.

For many reasons, Sacramento would be a perfect fit for MLS.

The state capital enjoys great weather nearly year round and has a diverse population. The downtown core is showing its greatest signs of life in a generation and Sacramento is a city of active people. This is a city and a region of athletes. Being active and playing sports are as loved in Sacramento as participating in communal events.

We just saw nearly 30,000 people turn out for the Run to Feed the Hungry, the largest Thanksgiving race in America. This Sunday, Sacramento will host its premiere competitive run, the California International Marathon. The buildup to this event inspires the daily sight of runners crisscrossing the region in preparation for the big race. The Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau has seized on this spirit to bid on many athletic events that resonate with local athletes.

After a two-year absence, the Amgen Tour of California will bring elite cyclists back to Sacramento in May. Once the site of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field trials, Sacramento will become a track city again when it hosts the 2014 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in June.

Steve Hammond, president and CEO of the visitors bureau, said his group is attempting to keep the momentum going by bidding on dozens of NCAA events, including championships in track, cross country, volleyball, gymnastics and golf. Once a new downtown arena for the Kings is finished in 2016, the agency has its sights on bringing the NCAA men’s basketball tournament back to Sacramento.

“While events like the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships bring significant and measurable economic impact to the region, they also offer tremendous national and international exposure for Sacramento that position us in a very positive light,” Hammond said.

These events – along with Sacramento Republic, the Kings and River Cats – also create connections and expressions of community. That’s a worthwhile trend for Sacramento to encourage.