Soccer

Rookie Zev Taublieb is winning hearts of Republic FC fans

Republic FC midfielder Zev Taublieb (16), center, is congratulated by teammates after he scored the team's third and final goal during the game between the Sacramento Republic FC and the Portland Timbers II at Bonney Field in Sacramento on Saturday, April 18, 2015. Sacramento won the match 3-0.
Republic FC midfielder Zev Taublieb (16), center, is congratulated by teammates after he scored the team's third and final goal during the game between the Sacramento Republic FC and the Portland Timbers II at Bonney Field in Sacramento on Saturday, April 18, 2015. Sacramento won the match 3-0. rbenton@sacbee.com

As one of a handful of rookies on Republic FC, Zev Taublieb knows the chance to play can be fleeting.

So when his No. 16 has been called, he’s made the most of it.

Taublieb, a 5-foot-6, 140-pound midfielder, came off the bench in the 65th minute of his USL debut April 11 and played solidly in a 3-1 win over the LA Galaxy II. That earned him his first pro start and 59 minutes in a 2-0 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on April 15. On Saturday, he entered in the 67th minute and scored his first professional goal 15 minutes later in Republic FC’s 3-0 win over Portland Timbers FC 2.

Rodrigo Lopez spotted James Kiffe alone on the left wing and sent the ball his way. Kiffe one-touched a cross toward the feet of David Estrada as he made a near post run. Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson blocked Estrada’s shot but the ball rolled a few feet from his grasp to the center of the box. Taublieb darted toward the goal and knocked the ball home before Gleeson could recover.

“A great goal, but I’m not really worried about the goal,” Republic FC coach Preki said. “I thought he came in and looked the part. He was active. He never panicked. He moved the ball. He looked like a proper soccer player.”

Taublieb also looks like a fan favorite, despite being with the team only a few months. Taublieb plays with enthusiasm and has an engaging personality. On his way to his first postgame interview Saturday, he was continually stopped by fans seeking autographs and photos.

Taublieb, 21, knows he’s landed a great gig.

“It’s really amazing,” Taublieb said. “The guys have taken me under their wing as one of the younger guys, as a rookie, and taught me so much. The coaching staff has helped me develop my game to another level already. I’m looking forward to so much more.”

Preki and Republic FC technical director Graham Smith spotted Taublieb at a Southern California tryout, then he survived a highly competitive team assessment camp.

“We saw this little kid who was showing everyone how to play,” Smith said of the combine in Ventura. “Preki and I looked at each other, and I said, ‘I know what you are thinking: a little fella.’

“But we stayed and watched him for two days, got him into training and he continued to show well. He has good football intelligence, and he understands what his role is.”

Last fall, while Republic FC was en route to the USL championship, Taublieb was playing at Valparaiso in Indiana, where he had two game-winning goals as a senior. Last summer, he played with the Seattle Sounders U23 team.

But he’s a California kid, having grown up in Malibu, where his father, Paul, is a movie producer (“The Vow,” starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum).

Now Taublieb finds himself as a cast member in Sacramento’s biggest hit show that sells out night after night.

“The fans here are unreal, as you can tell,” said Taublieb, who graduated from Valparaiso with a communications degree. “The atmosphere makes me breathless. … This group has really taken me as one of their own. I talk to them every day on computer, Twitter, Instagram, direct messaging. I thank them. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t really be here.”

Only 18 players from Republic FC’s 24-man roster are eligible to play in each match. So Taublieb doesn’t know if Preki will select him for Friday night’s game against the Orange County Blues FC, the end of a four-game homestand at Bonney Field.

“Obviously you don’t know, but I always prepare as if I’m going to play,” he said.

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

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