Soccer

Return to Tulsa all business for Republic FC’s Matt LaGrassa

Republic FC defender Mike da Fonte, left, celebrates after scoring a goal with midfielders Matt LaGrassa, middle, and Octavio Guzman during the first half against the Portland Timbers 2 on Aug. 20 at Bonney Field in Sacramento.
Republic FC defender Mike da Fonte, left, celebrates after scoring a goal with midfielders Matt LaGrassa, middle, and Octavio Guzman during the first half against the Portland Timbers 2 on Aug. 20 at Bonney Field in Sacramento. aseng@sacbee.com

Republic FC rookie midfielder Matt LaGrassa’s nearly one month loan to the Tulsa Roughnecks FC earlier this summer may have been pivotal to kick-starting his professional career.

But the former Pleasant Grove High School standout plans to withhold any positive vibes from that experience when Republic FC plays its regular-season finale Saturday night in the Oklahoma oil city.

“We are going to have to bring our best, just like any other week,” LaGrassa said. “They are going to want to end their season on a high note in front of their fans. It’s going to be a game we are going to have to play hard and execute well like any other.”

The game is important for Sacramento.

A win would assure Republic FC (13-6-10, 49 points) of second place in the USL’s Western Conference and a potential second home playoff game.

Republic FC also could finish atop of the Western Conference with a win and a loss or tie by co-points leader Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (14-8-7, 49) against the Orange County Blues FC the same night. Colorado Springs holds the tiebreaker, with one more win than Sacramento.

A win or tie by Republic FC also would extend its unbeaten streak to 11 games, a team record, and give it more momentum for the first round of the playoffs Oct. 1 at Bonney Field against an opponent to be determined.

“We want to finish on a high,” Republic FC coach Paul Buckle said. “Sitting level on points is great. I would have taken that at the start of the season. I’m happy. I think the team is in a very good place. They are together, and they’ll have the bit between their teeth now to try and make this a season to remember.”

Tulsa (5-20-4) has the fewest wins and points in the 29-team USL. Roughnecks FC is 0-7-2 since its last win, 2-1 over Arizona United SC on July 30.

“We won’t be looking at where they are in the league,” Buckle said. “We will focus on ourselves. We’ve done that all season. … We don’t have to change our mentality; we don’t have to be cagey. If we get the first goal, we will want to get the second. If we go one down one, we’ll be positive and try to come back and win the game.”

LaGrassa was loaned to Tulsa from June 23 to July 20 after playing just one minute in Republic FC’s first 13 USL games.

He became a starter for Tulsa, playing 275 minutes in four matches, and the Roughnecks were 2-2-1 during his stay.

When he returned to Sacramento, LaGrassa quickly moved into Republic FC’s starting lineup. He has started the last seven matches, contributing a goal and two assists.

“As a rookie, you find yourself doubting yourself a bit and wondering if you truly belong,” LaGrassa said. “Going to Tulsa, I got a fresh start, got some opportunities to prove myself, earned a starting spot, and my confidence grew from there.”

LaGrassa wasn’t the only Republic FC player on loan with Tulsa this season. Reserve rookie midfielder Chase Minter played with Tulsa from Aug. 4 to Sept. 1.

The Roughnecks FC has some other ties to Sacramento, largely because of the friendship between Republic FC director of football Graham Smith and Tulsa coach David Irving.

Goalkeeper Alex Mangels was on trial with Republic FC in the preseason before signing with Tulsa. Midfielder Carlos Martinez played with Republic FC in 2014, and Pakistani forward Kaleemullah was with Sacramento last year. Tulsa goalkeeper Jake Feener played at Jesuit High School with Republic FC forward Cameron Iwasa.

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

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