Soccer

Richie Cardozo of Australia makes quick impression with Republic FC

Richie Cardozo found a quick way to make a name for himself in a crowded field of prospects hoping to land a spot with Republic FC this season.

The Australian midfielder scored three goals in Republic FC’s first two preseason matches. He had both goals in Republic FC’s 2-2 tie at the Fresno Fuego on Saturday, then added another in a 4-0 win at the Ventura County Fusion on Monday.

The goal against Ventura County, the second of the match, was a stunner.

Cardozo curled a corner kick with his left foot into the net at the near post that Fusion goalkeeper Clint Long failed to clear.

“I went for the shot,” Cardozo said. “The best thing about going for one of those is if you whip it in well enough, there is always a chance of him dropping it or a teammate getting a head on it. Luckily enough, it went straight in.”

Cardozo was among 30 players invited to Republic FC’s training camp trying to land one of a half-dozen roster spots as they begin defense of the USL Pro championship.

Cardozo, 28, has had a star-crossed career. He was a teenage phenom who played for Australia in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, and he left high school at 17 to begin a professional career in Australia’s top pro league.

But when the National Soccer League failed and the succeeding A-League was formed, Cardozo couldn’t find a team.

“The first year of the A-League, there were only eight teams,” Cardozo said. “For a teenager, it was almost impossible to get a pro contract.”

Cardozo has spent most of his career, other than stops in Switzerland and Austria, playing in Australia’s second division, eking out a modest existence as a full-time player for teams using mostly part-timers holding down day jobs.

“I’ve been able to keep my head above water, so I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said. “But there are so many talented players in Australia who end up quitting.”

He sees an opportunity in the United States, where professional soccer is expanding rapidly. And having a chance to play for a buzz-making team with Major League Soccer ambitions is a bonus.

“When this opportunity came up, I did my research on the team, the city and thought it was something I’d love to pursue,” he said. “They were very successful last year. They have big plans for the future. You can see it’s an exciting time for the city. It’s amazing what they have achieved in such short time.”

While he said trying out is pressure-packed, he likes coach Preki’s ball-possession style of play.

“It’s a fun way to play, keeping the ball and creating a lot of movement, a lot of passing and a lot of goal-scoring opportunities,” Cardozo said. “It suits me.”

But Preki isn’t tipping his hand on whether Cardozo might earn a contract.

“Just because you score a few goals … it doesn’t mean anything,” Preki said. “I’m watching everything: how he moves around, what he does when he doesn’t have the ball.”

Preki’s evaluation – Preki was pleased with his team against Fresno and Ventura County and in a 4-1 exhibition win over UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday to complete a five-day Southern California tour.

“We started slowly, but by the end of the trip we starting picking things up,” Preki said.

Though the Fuego plays in a division lower than Republic FC, Preki said the game gave his players a wake-up call on what to expect if they aren’t prepared.

“Fresno gave us a good game,” Preki said. “We usually dictate the pace of the game, but, to be fair, Fresno did that to us. ... We thought things would come easy for us. But there isn’t anything easy coming for us this season.”

Money-backed soccer – Investment in Republic FC by the Kings and 49ers hasn’t been lost on the players.

“It’s exciting,” said goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek. “I know some people have been saying negative things because of what happened with (coaches Michael) Malone and (Jim) Harbaugh. But I’m not worrying about them changing things here. Whatever it takes to help this team get to the next level, I’m all for it. It’s a huge backing.”

Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

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