Republic FC coach Paul Buckle has mixed feelings about Friday.
That’s when he and director of football Graham Smith will hold exit interviews with the squad’s players.
Most will be asked back, but a few will be told to look elsewhere. It’s also when they might learn which players they want back might be looking to leave.
“We’ve got some tough decisions to make on Friday,” Buckle said. “It’s not a nice part of the job now; it isn’t a part I enjoy. But it has to be done. Friday is going to be a long day.”
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Buckle and Smith aren’t looking at the massive roster makeover of last season, when 12 players from the 2015 team departed. Sacramento signed 14 new players in 2016, including several late in the season.
Despite the turnover, Republic FC finished atop the Western Conference standings, though Sacramento’s season ended with a second consecutive first-round playoff loss.
“I think we only need a few additions,” Buckle said. “I’m excited about the players we have here.”
Smith said the theme will be “stability, uniformity.”
“We have so much potential now in the football club with young players like Cameron Iwasa, Harry Williams, Wilson Kneeshaw, Carlos Rodriguez and Daniel Trickett-Smith,” Smith said. “In an ideal world, a lot of those players could one day be considered for Major League Soccer.”
But Smith and Buckle also realize they could lose some players to other teams, perhaps even to MLS.
Iwasa, a second-year forward, had a breakthrough year in setting a franchise season record for goals with 12, and outside defender James Kiffe continued to turn heads with his brilliant attacking ability that resulted in five assists.
Veteran Danny Barrera set a club record for assists with nine and ranks as one of the USL’s best midfielders. Outside right defender Emrah Klimenta was having an outstanding season before suffering a season-ending knee injury in early July.
“Of course I’m concerned,” Buckle said. “It would be crazy for other teams not to be looking at our players because of our success. … And you don’t know what’s in a player’s mind. Does he still want to be here? Is he ready to go?’ They all have aspirations to play higher.”
Buckle saw Wednesday’s friendly against Chivas as more than just an exhibition send-off for the players. It was one last chance to evaluate several veterans who might be on the bubble for next season.
“Some players have been here for a while now, so we have to be sure they got it in them to go again,” Buckle said. “You’re in the same place, the same league with the same voices. We have to be sure they can still bring a freshness when we come back in late January.”
Buckle wants to keep his younger players, including internationals Kneeshaw, Williams, Trickett-Smith and Rodriguez, working out in Sacramento during the offseason. He wants them to train with some of the most promising players from Republic FC’s U-18 and U-16 academy teams.
“If these players want to start going home, they’re not for us,” Buckle said. “This is professional football. You need to put in the hours.”
He and Smith also plan to return to England during the offseason to visit English Premier League clubs Liverpool FC and Southampton, plus a few others, in search of talented players they feel will be good fits with Republic FC.
Buckle said upgrading is a necessity in the USL, which gets better and deeper every season.
“We have to find a way to keep improving the squad while staying under the budget,” Buckle said. “So we’ve got to get things right. We want to come up with another team for which the fans can be proud.”