While Paul Buckle is happy with his team’s ability to come from behind for victories or ties, the Republic FC coach would much rather see his young and improving squad get on top early and press the advantage.
Sacramento gets the chance at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday as it hosts Reno 1868 FC in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Papa Murphy’s Park. A win Wednesday means Republic FC would host Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer in two weeks. It would be the first time Sacramento has hosted an MLS team in a match other than a friendly. Sacramento is 0-2 against MLS squads, both losses coming to the San Jose Earthquakes in U.S. Open Cup play. Reno 1868 FC, a new United Soccer League entry, are affiliated with the Earthquakes and earned the right to play Sacramento with a 4-3 penalty-kick victory over OSA FC of the National Premier Soccer League. The teams were tied 1-1 after 120 minutes.
“The start of the game (vs. Reno) will be vital,” said Buckle, who’s seen his squad score nine goals in the past three games. “I’m never concerned if it’s 0-0 at the half. But by going up early, that’s where you get confidence. We showed a lot of character this season coming from behind but no it’s all about getting out in front and controlling the game.”
Buckle said his team was in control for much of his team’s 2-2 draw Sunday against Seattle Sounders FC 2. But several mistakes proved costly. Buckle will be without defender Emra Klimenta, who has joined the Montenegro national squad and won’t be back until mid-June. He said he’s still looking for a settled 11 to put on the pitch but that goal has been elusive, as the squad (4-5-2, fourth place USL) is just now starting to show signs of resurgence after Sacramento went scoreless over a 0-5-1 streak.
“I’ve always told my players that you keep your shirt through performance,” Buckle said. “This is a team sport, sure, but there are 11 individuals out there as well.”
Sacramento has three games in six days and Buckle said he will take overall fitness and energy levels into consideration when making his starting 11 for Wednesday. That could mean that Evan Newton is back in goal for Republic FC after Dominik Jakubek started the past three games. Sacramento hosts Rio Grande Valley FC on Saturday.
“I’ll utilize the strongest team available to me,” Buckle said. “This will be a tough game but it’s also a great opportunity.”
A win against Reno and Republic FC players will get the rare chance to play in front of an MLS coaching and front office staff. For those without any MLS experience, they’ll get an up-close look at how they match up – or don’t.
“A possible game against an MLS team would be great for our players who are aspiring to play at that level,” Buckle said. “But we have a big job on our hands Wednesday.”
Reno has a potent offense led by midfielder Antoine Hoppenot and forward Dane Kelly. Hoppenot was named USL Player of the Week on Tuesday after scoring three goals in two matches. He received 38 percent of the poll votes conducted by a national panel of independent media in every USL market.
Kelly was named USL Player of the Week on May 22.
“Dane has made it easy for me up there,” Hoppenot said in a Reno 1868 release. “We’re playing really well right now and passing the ball well.”
Elk Grove native and former Republic FC player Matt LaGrassa plays midfield for Reno.
Trevin Caesar said his first goal as a member of Republic FC “has been a long time coming.” Caesar led Orange County SC last season with 10 goals but had yet to find the back of the net until Sunday in Seattle.
Caesar gathered a beautiful pass from midfielder Danny Barrera with his chest, put the ball on his right foot and flicked up and over goalie Tyler Miller for a 1-0 lead.
“A weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” said Caesar, who has three goals for his native Trinidad and Tobago National Team. “There is more to come.”
Caesar said he’s had to be patient since coming to Sacramento. He’s played just 287 of 900 possible minutes in USL action this season, often coming off the bench late in games. But he got the start Sunday, his fourth in 10 games, and is looking to continue impressing Buckle and to “keep his shirt,” as he said.
Caesar is the type of pesky player who can either get lost by defenders or flat out sprint past them for open looks, as he did Sunday in Seattle.
“I haven’t been frustrated so far this season but I’m glad I had a big performance,” Caesar said. “I knew when I came here I had to work on some things like the mental part of the game and my fitness. I also knew I had to keep my composure and build on every match.”
Caesar said he’s close with Kelly and defender Brenton Griffiths of Reno 1868 FC. Caesar said he and his buddies have good-natured smack talk via text, but realizes come game time Wednesday, the joking stops.
“(Reno) is a good team and they’re coming here to beat us,” Caesar said. “It’s going to be a hard game – really rough.”
Mark Billingsley covers Republic FC for The Bee. Reach him at email@example.com or @editorwriter001.