Dominik Jakubek played in goal the first 16 matches for Republic FC last season before Evan Newton closed out the final 14. Now, five games into the 2017 season, the two are alternating each game.
While it’s not a keeper controversy, the situation is rare and both Jakubek and Newton have been magnanimous in accepting coach Paul Buckle’s decision.
“If I was 27 you’d see a completely different Dominik,” said Jakubek, 37. “I’d be complaining and whining on the sidelines. Now I’m a little more mature, but I am expendable because of my age. I just work hard, keep my mouth shut and be a leader on this team. Guys look up to me whether I’m playing or not.”
Sacramento is 18-10-7 overall with Jakubek in goal and 7-3-6 with Newton. It’s Newton’s turn on Saturday when Republic FC hosts the Portland Timbers 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Papa Murphy Park.
Jakubek seems to have responded to Buckle, who took over the team halfway through the 2015 season. The Lodi native was 8-4-4 last season and is 2-1 so far this season, with that lone loss a 1-0 defeat against the Swope Park Rangers on April 15. Under Preki, Sacramento’s first head coach, Jakubek went 6-5-1.
“I’ve been a starter a short time, and usually the backup, but I’ve always been ready to play,” Jakubek said. “Preki told me that I wouldn’t be the starter here, that I might play a little here and there. I said that’s fine. But I stay ready. If (Buckle) plays me, I do my job, if he doesn’t, then I’m a professional and I respect coach’s opinion. It does not bother me one bit.”
Newton is equally benevolent. He finished last season as the starter and thought he’d keep the job in 2017. But Buckle’s decision to assign starts on an every-other-game basis has not led Newton to seek greener pitch elsewhere, nor has he distracted the team by voicing displeasure. Sacramento (nine points) is tied with Swope Park and Real Monarchs for second, one point behind San Antonio for the Western Conference lead.
“It’s a different situation and one you don’t see very often in professional soccer,” Newton said. “But dealing with it when called upon and making the opportunity count is what it’s about. And we support the other as best we can.
“Whether you agree or not, it’s the coach’s decision,” Newton said. “From there, I help him out before the game, and during the game I may say something, or if I see something out there I’ll tell him at halftime.”
Simon Sheppard is Republic FC’s goalkeeper coach and is responsible for keeping both Jakubek and Newton in top shape, mentally as well. Professional athletes want to play major minutes, and if they don’t they can become distractions or full-blown problems. That hasn’t been the case, Sheppard said.
“The game is changing all the time and you’re going to come up with some different scenarios, and this is the scenario we’ve come upon,” Sheppard said. “Luckily, we have two great keepers that can deal with it. We just keep moving forward. From Dom to Evan, they’re both great keepers and (last season) we had the best goals against record since we started.”
It’s hard to argue with Buckle’s decision. Despite back-to-back losses, the team’s first since July 10-16, the 1-0 score in each game is hardly worthy of panic. The defense is still stout, regardless of who is in goal.
“Our goals against has been excellent since I’ve been here,” Buckle said. “We’re blessed. The unique thing is, we have two excellent keepers and I utilize the pair of them because I trust them both. I’ve chosen to share the games so far; will it continue for the season? I don’t know. If you have just one goal keeper and a young one underneath, if you did get a problem, you’ve got to look elsewhere, and that can be tough.
“We have two great keepers and we have a crazy schedule like we’ve got with eight away in the first 10. I can assure you that both keepers will be used.”
Road warriors – Sacramento finished 1-2 on its recent three-game jaunt to the Midwest. A quirky schedule had Republic FC play three games in eight days. Most soccer players prefer one game a week.
Buckle said the 1-0 loss in Oklahoma City was tough as Energy FC won it on a bicycle kick in front of the goal. Sacramento dominated much of the match, he said. The team played well in the loss in Kansas City, too, despite playing a game just four days earlier.
“That was just a wonderful kick that undone us,” Buckle said of the loss in Oklahoma. “It wasn’t anything else. We just weren’t able to unlock the door, which can happen. That second game for us, I could see the players were tired. I could see the journey, the distance we covered, take out the players. But we didn’t use that as an excuse, we should have had something out of that. But we move on quickly and that’s important. We get another opportunity (Saturday night).”
After Saturday, Republic FC will play three road games and won’t play in Sacramento again until May 20 against the Tulsa Roughnecks.
From June through September, Republic FC will play 13 of 18 games at home before playing the final three regular-season games on the road. It’s during those summer months that midfielder Danny Barrera hopes Sacramento can make a push.
“We’re getting it (road games) all done now and then come back in the summer and be home for a while,” Barrera said. “In that 105-degree heat, it’s harder for (opponents) to adjust. So, I think it’s good getting these road games done now than later. It’s a better scenario for us.”
Mark Billingsley covers Republic FC for The Bee. Reach him at email@example.com or @editorwriter001