Any fears that Major League Soccer would dominate the USL haven’t come to fruition nearly a month into the regular season.
Seven new MLS-affiliated teams and the returning LA Galaxy II are part of the 24-team, two-conference, third-division league this season.
But while the Seattle Sounders 2 (3-0-0) and the surprising Arizona United SC (3-0-0) are atop the Western Conference and the Portland Timbers 2 (2-1-1) are in third place, most other MLS affiliates are in the bottom half of the Western and Eastern conferences, which feature 12 teams each.
The Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 (1-2-0), Republic FC’s opponent Wednesday night at Bonney Field, is in a three-way tie for seventh in the West. The Real Monarchs SLC (0-2-2) are in 10th, while the Galaxy II (0-3-1), a playoff semifinalist last year, is tied for last.
The New York Red Bulls II (1-1-1) are tied with three other teams for fifth place in the East. Toronto FC II (1-2-0) is ninth, and FC Montreal (0-2-0) is tied for last.
“It tells you that this league is no pushover,” Republic FC coach Preki said. “There are a lot of good teams in this league. There’s still a lot of soccer to be played, and I’m sure it is going to be very competitive. Nobody is going to get anything easy, not MLS teams, not us.”
In the season opener March 21, Republic FC lost 4-2 at the Seattle Sounders 2 without four key starters. On April 2, Republic FC fell 2-1 at the Portland Timbers 2 on a late goal by former Republic FC loan player Steven Evans. Republic FC hosts Portland on Saturday.
Sacramento’s two USL wins are over the Galaxy II, 3-2 in Carson on March 28 and 3-1 Saturday in the USL home opener at Bonney Field. With a year’s experience and its depth of talent, the Galaxy II was expected to lead the way for the MLS affiliates.
“These MLS teams are very talented, but they’re young and inexperienced,” Republic FC midfielder Rodrigo Lopez said. “I think Galaxy II is a great team. I don’t know how they are so low in the standings. I’m sure they’ll pick it up. They’re well coached. It’s a great organization.”
Republic FC is 5-1-1 all-time against its keenest rival. Lopez, defender Emrah Klimenta and forward David Estrada had a goal and an assist in helping fourth-place Republic FC (2-2-0) jump to a 3-0 first-half lead over Los Angeles on Saturday in front of a Bonney Field announced record crowd of 10,906.
“Coming back to Bonney Field and playing in front of our fans was something motivating for us,” said Lopez, who has scored six goals against L.A. the last two seasons. “We always try to play our best, but there’s something about playing at Bonney Field and playing L.A. that gets us even more pumped up.”
Struggling ’Caps – Although the Whitecaps FC 2 had seven players on loan from the senior team, they fell 2-0 at the Orange County Blues FC in Irvine on Sunday.
Vancouver played a man down from the 34th minute when defender Ethen Sampson was sent off after getting two yellow cards. Because of the ejection, he can’t play against Republic FC.
The Whitecaps FC 2 will have four players on loan from their top team against Republic FC: goalkeeper Marco Carducci, striker Caleb Clarke, midfielder Ben McKendry and center back Tim Parker. Also playing for the Whitecaps FC 2 are former San Jose Earthquakes forward Billy Schuler and former Toronto FC and Rochester Rhinos midfielder Tyler Rosenlund.
Tonight’s match will be Vancouver’s fourth consecutive on the road. Republic FC is 9-1-1 in USL matches at Bonney Field.
Ring of rewards – Republic FC players, coaches and staff received their USL championship rings during a prematch ceremony Saturday. For Lopez, who has played professionally for 10 seasons, it’s his first championship ring. He hopes it isn’t his last.
“The presentation brought back good memories of last year,” Lopez said. “At the beginning of the game, I told the guys in the huddle that’s why we need to work hard, so that we can get another one, and that we have the team to do it again.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.