First-half goals by Danny Barrera and Sammy Ochoa, along with a nice header from Chris Christian in the second half, resulted in Republic FC’s 3-2 victory Saturday night against Tulsa Roughnecks FC at Papa Murphy’s Park.
Christian’s game winner came off a corner kick in the 67th minute. Barrera angled a low shot to the box at Christian, who was loitering just above the goal box. Christian redirected the ball with his forehead.
“My brother is a goalie and he always tells me to send the ball where the goalie just was, not where he is,” said Christian, a defender. “(Set pieces) have been a struggle but we have to keep working on them and Danny and I are starting to communicate better.”
It was the first set piece goal of the season for Sacramento.
“I was delighted with the fight in the team tonight,” Republic FC coach Paul Buckle said. “This was a must-win for us. That was a good side and they’re very dangerous. Let’s take the three points and move on.”
The Roughnecks got on the board first in the eighth minute. Juan Caffa got open on the left side and poked a pass across the goal mouth to Joey Calistri, who tapped it past a diving Dominik Jakubek.
Barrera responded 21 minutes later with a shot from near the penalty spot that bounced off Roughnecks goalie Donovan Ricketts’ leg and up into the top of the net. It was Barrera’s first goal of the year.
Sacramento would capitalize on its pressure just two minutes later when James Kiffe chipped the ball into the box from the left side into the awaiting skull of Ochoa, who headed it into the net for Republic FC’s first lead in the past seven USL contests. Ochoa, who played for Tulsa last season, had an assist in Sacramento’s 2-1 victory in Oklahoma on April 8 – the team’s last USL win.
Saturday’s win ended an 0-5-1 USL losing streak that saw Republic FC fall all the way to 10th place in the Western Conference. The victory Saturday, and the three points, means Sacramento leaps over Tulsa in the standings. Tulsa was seventh at the start of USL play Saturday with 12 points.
Caffa tied the score at 2-2 in the 67th minute on a penalty kick after Julius James was whistled for a hand ball in the box. Jakubek guessed correctly that Caffa would shoot low and to his right, but the ball just sneaked under him.
“I googled him before the match and knew that he would go to my right,” Jakubek said. “When he lined up, I yelled at him that he would stutter step and I dared him to go to my right. He looked up and asked how I knew that.”
Jakubek said had he made the PK save, the game would have effectively been over – the momentum would have been too great for Tulsa to overcome in front of another sellout crowd of more than 11,000.
Sacramento travels to Seattle on May 28 to take on the Sounders 2. The team returns to Papa Murphy Park on May 31 for the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup against Reno 1868 FC.
RoRo sighting–Rodrigo Lopez is arguably the most popular player in Republic FC history. Affectionately known as RoRo, Lopez is now a defensive midfielder for Celaya FC of Mexico’s second division and was in the stands watching his friends and former teammates Saturday.
“Our season is over and I had a few days off so I came up to visit,” Lopez said. “Things are going great in Mexico. I just turned 30 and they have me playing defensive midfield, which is something new for me.”
Lopez said the 2017 version of Republic FC is a good one.
“The team started off a little slow tonight but they got going,” he said. “They have some great players in Barrera, Ochoa and Kiffe. They’re going to be fine.”
Mark Billingsley covers Republic FC for The Bee. Reach him at email@example.com or @editorwriter001.