Republic FC officials have apologized for Saturday’s chaotic ending to a friendly match at UC Davis and said the team remains committed to playing Northern California college soccer teams.
Republic FC coach Preki abruptly pulled his players from the field in the 66th minute despite leading the Aggies 1-0. The decision came after Republic FC defender James Kiffe was red-carded for a hard tackle on UC Davis freshman Noah Wilson in a match that began without much fanfare but steadily grew more intense, physical and vocal in front of a sold-out crowd of 1,344 at Aggie Field Stadium.
Preki cited player safety for his decision and reiterated those concerns Wednesday.
“We want those kids to have a good experience playing soccer,” Preki said. “But we don’t want to be involved in a kick-fest because these guys here, this is their livelihood. That’s all I’m concerned about.”
It was a rare public relations misstep for the popular second-year franchise.
During the past four days, Republic FC officials conducted an internal review of the match and what went wrong. Republic FC president Warren Smith said late Wednesday that they looked at video, photos and interviewed those involved.
“On behalf of Republic FC, we want to apologize for our role in this event,” said Smith, a UC Davis alum. “While we still support Preki in that decision (to walk off the field), we feel things could have been handled differently.”
He said that Republic FC has taken disciplinary action, “which has been shared with UC Davis,” against assistant coach Adam Smith for a halftime altercation with a UC Davis player.
Warren Smith said there will be future discussions about the two teams playing again, though “we’re reluctant to commit to something right now.”
Some have suggested that putting college athletes on the same field with pro players in close proximity to a large, vocal crowd may be too volatile a mix. That UCD had defeated Republic FC 1-0 the previous season may have only intensified the potential for an incident.
While it’s rare for most major professional sports teams to play against college teams, it’s quite common in U.S. soccer.
Smith said that college matches have been good for Republic FC. It saves on travel costs, helps the players “work on their craft” and gives the organization a chance to scout area talent.
“We’re all growing the sport together,” he said.
Preki said the incident with UCD hasn’t soured his thoughts on playing college teams.
“I don’t see a reason why we wouldn’t,” Preki said. “We’ve played Santa Barbara, Sac State, Cal-Berkeley and Stanford and never had any problems.”
Republic FC goalkeeper Patrick McLain said playing against a pro team was something he looked forward to when he was at Cal Poly.
“We played quite a few MLS teams,” he said. “It was always a good experience for us as college kids. It’s a good opportunity for a coach to see you and to maybe make an impact.”
Now on the other side, McLain thinks he and his professional teammates still benefit, even against college teams that usually aren’t as skilled.
“Fitness is a huge gain in these games,” McLain said. “When you are competing against somebody, that makes all the difference. It’s something you can’t necessarily do in practice.”
Sacramento State men’s soccer coach Michael Linenberger said the experience for his players is invaluable.
“We have some guys who have ambitions of playing pro someday,” Linenberger said. “So this shows them how big a gap there is between college and pro. They see the game is much faster, the players are stronger. Everything is played at a different level.”
Sac State hosted Republic FC on March 4. But unlike the sold out and well-publicized UCD match that Republic FC listed on its official schedule, the Hornets played in front of a small group of fans.
“It was more of a closed-door environment,” Linenberger said. “We did open the gates, but we didn’t advertise.”
Linenberger said he has much respect for Preki and Republic FC technical director Graham Smith as well as UCD coach Dwayne Shaffer, so he was disappointed to hear about what happened on Saturday.
“It was not a good situation for anyone,” Linenberger said. “So it’s good to hear that they want to continue to play us. I think we probably benefit from the experience more than they do, but hopefully they are getting something.”
Despite the abrupt ending that left him somewhat stunned Saturday, Shaffer said playing Republic FC “is a great experience.”
“They’re pros for a reason,” Shaffer said. “We had 12 freshmen playing in the game, so to get that kind of experience was outstanding for our team. ... I’d love to play them again. It’s great for our community. It’s great for them.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.