Republic FC is four starters short for USL opener against Seattle

Defending champion Republic FC opens the USL season Saturday night against the Seattle Sounders FC 2 in Tukwila, Wash., without four key starters and facing a team it knows little about.

Forward Thomas Stewart (left foot), midfielders Rodrigo Lopez (hip strain) and Max Alvarez (pelvis), and center back Nemanja Vukovic (hernia) are out with injuries. Lopez, the team captain, was the latest to join the injury list after he was hurt in practice this week.

To help fill the gap, Republic FC announced Friday the signings of forwards David Estrada and Cameron Iwasa, a former Jesuit High School standout.

Estrada is a five-year Major League Soccer veteran who played with the Seattle Sounders and D.C. United. Iwasa was the 65th pick by the Montreal Impact in January’s MLS SuperDraft but was not signed. He is a former UC Irvine star. Both are with the team in Seattle.

Sounders 2 is one of seven new MLS-affiliated sides that have been added to what is expected to be a more competitive USL, which has expanded from 14 to 24 teams this season.

Seattle is a blend of recent MLS SuperDraft selections, former academy players and USL veterans who will be supplemented by loan players from the Sounders’ top team, one of MLS’s most successful franchises. They are coached by former MLS player Ezra Hendrickson.

“I haven’t seen them play, so I don’t know much about their players,” Republic FC coach Preki said. “I know their first team (Sounders FC of MLS) doesn’t have a game on Saturday. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they play some older guys, given the fact we won the league last year.”

Among the Sounders 2 players are Andy Craven, a forward from North Carolina taken in the third round of this year’s draft; former Earthquakes forward Sam Garza; and center back Aaron Long, a former Portland Timbers player who twice played early last season for Republic FC on loan. Midfielder Amadou Sanyang played for Preki when he coached at Toronto FC in 2010.

Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

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