Midfielder Max Alvarez says Republic FC is looking forward to playing at soldout UC Davis at 3 p.m. on Saturday in their final preseason friendly.
Usually a pro team wouldn’t be so jazzed about playing a college team, especially a Republic FC team that became a regional soccer sensation and won the USL championship last season.
But last March the Aggies produced a shocker by beating Republic FC 1-0 in Davis on Sam Hoeck’s header and goalkeeper John Piasta’s penalty-kick save.
It was an embarrassing, though momentary, setback for the then first-year franchise trying to make an area splash and attract the attention of Major League Soccer.
The loss was even harder on Alvarez.
He’s a Sacramento State graduate and a former Hornets soccer star who competed in a number of Causeway Cup battles with the Aggies.
But in hindsight Alvarez said the humbling defeat may have been a good thing for a group of players who were just getting to know one another.
“It was a wake-up call,” Alvarez said. “You always need a fall to get back up, and that was one of them for us last season. Obviously we ended up winning the championship, but whenever you step on the field, you don’t want to lose. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll show them what we’re all about.”
Alvarez, who made Republic FC from a tryout, played in last year’s match and became a key contributor.
But he won’t play Saturday. A groin injury has sidelined throughout the preseason.
“Right now I’m day to day,” Alvarez said. “I’d love to be out there because even now I still feel it’s Sac State against Davis. But at the same time, you have to be smart about (the injury). You have to do what’s best for the team.”
Alvarez won’t be alone on the sidelines. USL Defender of the Year Nemanja Vukovic (hernia) and forward Thomas Stewart (left foot surgery) also are out for Saturday. Both played against UCD last season.
But there are still a number of returning players with long memories. That also includes coach Preki.
“This is a very serious match for us,” Preki said. “It’s a week before the season, so it’s our final tune-up.”
Republic FC opens USL play March 21 at the Seattle Sounders FC 2, one of seven new MLS-affiliated clubs that have helped USL expand to 24 teams this season.
The UCD match also will give the returning USL Coach of the Year a chance to look at the several of the new players signed this week and last for the upcoming season.
Among the new faces is Irish defender Derek Foran. Preki said Foran will start in central defense on Saturday in place of Vukovic. Foran, 25, played eight seasons in the League of Ireland Premier Division and was a teammate of Stewart’s with the Shamrock Rovers in 2013.
Most of the new signings also are veterans.
Defender Bilal Duckett, 26, has MLS experience with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC and New England Revolution, though he played last season with the USL Charlotte Eagles. Defender Matthias Bonvehi, 25, has competed in the Philippines, Germany, Argentina and Montenegro.
Sacramento signed three younger prospects in 22-year-old midfielder Zev Taublieb, who spent time with the Seattle Sounders U-23s; forward Adnan Gabeljic, 23, the 37th overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft by Sporting FC; and forward Joaquin Rivas, 22, who played last season with the Premier Development League Kitsap Pumas in Bremerton, Wash.
Republic FC has 23 players under contract, including 14 from last year’s team.
“We’re deeper,” Preki said. “There’s more competition for spots. We want to be covered in every position so players aren’t complacent with their jobs.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.