It was arguably the worst performance in Republic FC’s short but highly successful history.
Sacramento fell 2-1 to the Orange County Blues FC on Friday night, only the team’s second USL loss at Bonney Field in 17 league regular-season and playoff matches.
It was a surprising loss for Republic FC because it was coming off a 3-0 win over the Portland Timbers FC 2, its best performance of the young season.
On Friday, Republic FC, the Western Conference leader, had its entire roster available for the first time, including forward Thomas Stewart (foot surgery) and midfielder Gilberto (on loan in Brazil). Both made their 2015 USL debuts in the second half.
Sacramento was playing an under-the-radar OC Blues team that collapsed in the second half of the 2014 season, finishing next to last in the then-14-team league. They featured a new coach and a bunch of new players.
And Orange County played a man down after Luka Petricevic was red-carded for a studs-high tackle on Republic FC’s Ivan Mirkovic in the 59th minute.
The coup de grace came after the final whistle when Blues defender Brenton Griffiths emphatically raised his arms and yelled toward the Tower Bridge Battalion rooting section behind the visitors’ goal. That resulted in angry boos from the cold, rain-drenched crowd and a brief scrum among the players.
Republic FC coach Preki blamed “inconsistency with our mentality” and credited the OC Blues for playing tough and physical in landing a knockout blow.
“I feel like Orange County Blues came here and played for their lives and left everything on the line, and they got a result,” Preki said. “They are a different team (than last year). … Right now, we’re fighting this bug, if you want to call it that, where we are good one game, then the next game not so good.”
Preki is considering shaking up his lineup, possibly Wednesday night , when Republic FC plays at the Real Monarchs in Sandy, Utah.
“We don’t accept complacency here,” he said. “If they can’t do the job, then certain consequences have to happen. … That’s not threatening somebody. It’s just a reminder in this type of business we are entertainers, and we are judged on our winning and losing.”
Preki is surprised by the Republic’s 4-3-0 start because he believes he has a deeper and more talented team than last year’s USL champions. Practices are competitive and fast-moving. He figures that should carry over to the games, especially at home, where more than 11,000 partisans are looking on.
“If you can’t play in front of a full stadium and in a city where people embrace you with lots of love, then something is wrong,” Preki said.
Before things unraveled against the OC Blues, it appeared early that Republic FC would sweep its four-game homestand.
Justin Braun put Republic FC ahead 1-0 in the seventh minute. But when Republic FC’s Max Alvarez was horse-collared by the OC Blues’ Nikola Ilich and tossed to the ground late in the first half, the Blues continued to push forward as some of Sacramento’s players looked for a foul call. Denzel Slager scored on a breakaway from a heads-up pass by Didier Crettenand.
Crettenand scored the game winner less than 30 seconds into the second half, and Republic FC couldn’t find the equalizer as the Blues’ defenders hunkered down after Petricevic was sent off.
“Everybody was upset. Everybody was expecting something different,” said Republic FC goalkeeper Patrick McLain, who played most of last season with Orange County. “Bottom line, it wasn’t a good enough effort by us. We didn’t go in with the vigor and the tenacity we needed. But I don’t foresee that as a mistake we’ll make twice.”
The expansion Real Monarchs (0-4-2), the affiliate of Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake, have a young team that is in last place in the 12-team Western Conference but, according to Preki, has had some unlucky results.
Preki said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Real Monarchs bring in reinforcements from their MLS team.
“Every team that we’re playing, they’re putting the best effort against us,” he said.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.