Republic FC works to enhance fans’ experience

Republic FC fans cheer during Saturday night’s home opener against LA Galaxy II at bigger Bonney Field. Attendance was a stadium-record 10,906.
Republic FC fans cheer during Saturday night’s home opener against LA Galaxy II at bigger Bonney Field. Attendance was a stadium-record 10,906.

Preki’s mantra since he was named Republic FC’s coach is not to sweat what you can’t control.

“I don’t care about what the other team does,” said Preki, last year’s USL Coach of the Year. “All I care about is how our team plays and if we are dictating the tempo of the game.”

Preki’s philosophy pretty much applies to the Republic FC organization.

Despite the discussion as to if or when Republic FC becomes a Major League Soccer expansion team, the organization is pressing ahead with its immediate goals as a minor-league team in name only.

Those were on full display Saturday night during Sacramento’s USL home opener against rival LA Galaxy II at expanded Bonney Field. The match was played in a larger stadium before a record number of fans and an even wider television audience.

“It’s about the experience. It’s taking what we did last year and making it even a little bigger and better,” Republic FC president Warren Smith said before kickoff. “People are proud of Sacramento, and we love our teams. We’re glad to see the River Cats do well in their opener and that the Kings are coming up.

“We just hope we are making a little bit of difference with (soccer) and that we can grow this together.”

Republic FC set a Bonney Field record with an announced crowd of 10,906. But that record soon will be broken because construction to expand the stadium is not finished.

“We have a little more work to do,” Smith said. “You can see on the end lines where the contractor couldn’t get the work done.”

When complete, Smith said Bonney Field will have a seating capacity of 11,200.

Brothers Paul and Robert Devol of Citrus Heights were among the first fans to enter and sit in new seats on the stadium’s west side. They are pleased and consider them an upgrade from last year, when they were near the Tower Bridge Battalion rooting section behind the north goal.

“These are great,” Paul Devol said. “We’re close to the action, and we’re on the shaded side.”

Wearing matching Republic FC scarves, both have followed the team and hope it will land with MLS.

“The smartest thing they did was hiring Preki as coach,” Robert Devol said. “I think Preki can help them get to MLS.”

Republic FC continues to outdraw minor-league teams in Atlanta and Minneapolis, cities that have received MLS expansion franchises. Miami lacks a high-level minor-league team, though it has been awarded an MLS franchise contingent on building a downtown stadium.

Smith said the ultimate goal remains a spot in MLS and the team’s effort toward building a downtown stadium in the railyard continues.

“We’re working diligently on our relationship with the league and continuing to push that stadium concept forward,” Smith said.

Republic FC also is starting a youth academy development program that will begin tryouts next month. A Premier Development League team for college-level players is in the planning stages.

While Smith was being interviewed from high above the stadium, hundreds of fans flooded the expanded food, drink and entertainment concessions below. Republic FC merchandise sold briskly. There is a new area behind the west grandstands called The Market at Bonney Field.

Republic FC TV broadcasters Rob McAllister and Kevin Goldthwaite rehearsed for hours before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

“My lifetime goal has always been to be a professional TV broadcaster,” McAllister said. “We’re sort of on that trip. It’s almost like that lifelong dream is so close you can taste it.”

Last year, McAllister and Goldthwaite were live-streaming the home opener at Hughes Stadium in front of a sellout of more than 20,000.

“Kevin and I are both from Sacramento,” McAllister said, “so this means a great deal to us, and to be a part of this is a dream come true.”

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

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