Former Republic FC fan Ellliott Hord steps out of bleachers to play on pitch
New Republic FC defender Elliott Hord may be part of history repeating.
Two years ago, Hord was at Bonney Field watching defender James Kiffe and Republic FC play the LA Galaxy II in a wild USL semifinal playoff match that Sacramento rallied to win 3-2. It was dubbed the “Miracle at Bonney.”
Kiffe stood out to Hord because both play outside back and played earlier in the year in the Premier Development League, the fourth tier of U.S. soccer, Kiffe with the Ventura County Fusion and Hord with the Fresno Fuego.
“I’m sitting there watching James and can’t help thinking, ‘Wow!’ I was just literally playing against that guy,” said Hord, who played at UC Davis when Kiffe was at Big West Conference rival UC Santa Barbara.
Republic FC signed Kiffe, then 25, late in the season to shore up its patchwork left back position. When converted forward Chad Bartlome suffered an injury, Kiffe started the team’s final seven games and had a key role as Republic FC won the USL title in its inaugural season.
It’s funny how I kind of made a big loop around. I was going to games before, the 20,000-seat games at (Hughes Stadium in 2014), and I thought, ‘You know what? I’ll be back here.’
Elliott Hord, Republic FC defender
“I went from not being sure I was going to make the team as a trialist, to getting signed, to being put into the lineup by (former coach) Preki even when I wasn’t match-fit yet because Chad got hurt,” Kiffe said. “That whole experience was surreal. But it was a case of taking advantage of an opportunity, just as Elliott is doing now.”
Kiffe is a third-year Republic FC veteran – one of six remaining from that championship team – and left back is one of the team’s most stable positions.
Hord, 25, was signed Aug. 19 to stabilize the right back position after Emrah Klimenta suffered a season-ending knee injury in early July. Coach Paul Buckle used four players at that spot before Hord joined the team.
He’s started the last three matches, made the USL Team of the Week on Sept. 6 for his game-winning assist against the Orange County Blues FC on Sept. 3 and likely will start Saturday against the Galaxy II at Bonney Field. Republic FC hopes to extend its season-best unbeaten streak to 10 matches and remain in first place in the Western Conference.
“It’s crazy how it has worked out,” said Hord, a Fresno native who tried out with Republic FC in 2014 but wasn’t selected.
I think we have found a real player there. He’s very good going forward, clever and intelligent.
Paul Buckle, Republic FC coach, on Elliott Hord
When Fresno’s season finished this summer, Hord asked former Fuego coach Sean Lanigan if he could put in a word with Republic FC about becoming a trialist. Fresno and Republic FC have played a friendly every season since Sacramento’s founding, and Lanigan had a connection with Buckle, assistant coach Adam Smith and director of football Graham Smith.
“So Sean texted Adam Sunday night and five minutes later Adam calls Sean back and said I was about to call and ask you about Elliott,” Hord said. “I’m in Fresno and the next day I’m at Cosumnes River College training with Republic FC. That afternoon I received the contract offer. So you could say it’s been a whirlwind.”
Buckle liked Hord’s skills, but he never anticipated how easily he would transition into one of the USL’s strongest sides.
“He did very, very well in training and you almost want to ignore it because you think surely he can’t be good enough to come in this quickly and put a Sacramento shirt on,” Buckle said after Hord’s first two starts at Bonney Field. “But in the end, the boy did so well I thought, why not play him? … I think we have found a real player there. He’s very good going forward, clever and intelligent.”
Hord had an unsuccessful tryout last year with the Tulsa Roughnecks FC, the Western Conference’s last-place team. He spent several weeks playing with a third-division Swedish team late last year and also was a trialist this year with a first-division Irish team before returning to Fresno.
Hord is pleased he wound up with his dream team as it prepares for its third consecutive playoff appearance.
“It’s funny how I kind of made a big loop around,” Hord said. “I was going to games before, the 20,000-seat games at (Hughes Stadium in 2014), and I thought, ‘You know what? I’ll be back here.’ ”