Republic FC’s signing of English forward Wilson Kneeshaw on Aug. 11 went largely unnoticed, coming just two days after the team announced it was bringing former English Premier League standout Carlton Cole to Sacramento for a run at the USL playoffs.
Kneeshaw, 22, was in Cole’s shadows, both in stature and reputation. Kneeshaw, 5-foot-9, 140 pounds, has bounced around the lower levels of English soccer the last two years after a promising youth career at Middlesbrough FC. Cole, a more imposing 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, played 12 years in the EPL, primarily with West Ham and Chelsea, and scored 86 goals during a 14-year career in the top tiers in the United Kingdom.
But Kneeshaw holds goal-scoring bragging rights with Republic FC. In three matches, he has two goals in 70 minutes, including a gem in the 83rd minute last Saturday that gave Republic FC a 1-1 tie with LA Galaxy II in Carson.
The draw extended Republic FC’s unbeaten streak to nine matches – one short of the franchise record – and kept it atop the Western Conference entering Saturday’s rematch with Galaxy II at Bonney Field.
Cole, 32, is scoreless, though he’s played just 21 minutes in two matches as he works his way into game shape.
“I’ve been joking with him a little bit in the training room,” Kneeshaw said. “He tells me it’s the age difference. But I’ve enjoyed being out here with him. I watched the EPL all the time growing up, so he’s definitely contributed some experience to me. It’s all good knowledge that’s going to help me in my career.”
Kneeshaw knows how to score; earlier this year he had five goals in a match in England.
Against Galaxy II, he froze Clement Diop, one of the USL’s best goalkeepers, while breaking for the goal on a pinpoint pass from Cameron Iwasa. Kneeshaw’s effortless shot from the top of the box left Diop standing with his hands on his knees and his head bent.
“I’m always quite clear about what I’m going to do when I’m going through on goal,” Kneeshaw said. “I think the main fault of strikers is that they try to think too much.”
Kneeshaw’s goal continued Republic FC’s dominance of the Galaxy II in Southern California. Sacramento is 4-0-2 against Los Angeles in Carson, but the series is 3-3-1 in regular-season and playoff matches in Sacramento.
That doesn’t surprise Kneeshaw.
“In derbys, it’s always easier playing away from home,” Kneeshaw said. “You are going there kind of loose and looking to rile them up a little bit. When you are the home team, you’re on edge a little bit because you want to perform well in front of your home fans.”
Kneeshaw, whose contract runs through the end of the season, likes being part of a team that gets along well, is playoff bound and aiming for its second USL title in three years.
“I came over for a week’s trial and fell in love with the place,” he said. “All the players, all the coaches, the staff just looked after me so well. It was a no-brainer when we came to an agreement we were going to sign. It’s just a gorgeous place, isn’t it? I don’t want to leave.”
Postseason outlook – Playoff-bound Sacramento is two points ahead of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC with two games remaining and could secure the top seed in the Western Conference with a win against the Galaxy II and draws or losses by the Switchbacks, Rio Grande Valley FC and OKC Energy FC. The top seed potentially can host three playoff games.
“It’s in our hands now, what we do in the next two games regarding our league position,” coach Paul Buckle said. “This week has been about doing everything possible to be right for Saturday night. No change for us. The boys have been fantastic all season.”