Republic FC looks to bounce back against first-place Seattle Sounders 2

Rodrigo Lopez’s 60-yard goal is the USL’s April goal of the month, but he’s upset by the Republic’s two straight losses.
Rodrigo Lopez’s 60-yard goal is the USL’s April goal of the month, but he’s upset by the Republic’s two straight losses. Sacramento Bee file

The USL selected Rodrigo Lopez’s 60-yard goal in a 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 as its goal of the month for April earlier this week.

The goal, seen internationally and huge on social media three weeks ago, received 50 percent of the vote to far outdistance the three other contenders.

It was just the latest honor for one of the best and most entertaining players in the USL. His run-of-play second-half goal came in the middle of an eight-day, highlight-reel sweep of three Major League Soccer affiliates in Sacramento’s first USL home matches. It seemed to indicate Republic FC is ready to defend its USL championship.

Now, however, that dazzling April 15 goal seems like ages ago, one reason Lopez was in no mood to talk much about the honor after Wednesday’s practice.

Republic FC is in the midst of a two-match losing streak after falling at home 2-1 to the Orange County Blues FC and 1-0 at the Real Monarchs SLC. The loss to the Blues was only Republic FC’s second in 17 USL regular-season and playoff matches at Bonney Field. The Real Monarchs were winless and in last place in the Western Conference before beating Sacramento.

“I’d rather have the team at the top of table than me getting recognition,” said Lopez, a finalist for USL MVP last year. “It’s just a goal; but at the end of the day it’s about the team being the best that we can be. Right now, after two bad games, the priority is to get back into first place and play the way we usually play.”

Republic FC faces a huge test Saturday night at Bonney Field against the Western Conference-leading Seattle Sounders FC 2.

The Sounders 2 beat Republic FC 4-2 in the USL opener March 21, albeit without Lopez or Nemanja Vukovic, the 2014 USL Defender of the Year. Both were out with injuries, and Seattle took advantage to score four second-half goals.

Seattle has 13 points and Republic FC and the Blues are tied for second in the West with 12. But Sacramento has played two more matches than the Blues and one more than Seattle. With LA Galaxy II, Austin Aztex and Portland just two points behind second place and Arizona United and Colorado Springs a point behind them, the Sounders 2-Republic FC match has big implications in the highly competitive conference.

“Seattle has been really good at home, but they haven’t won away,” Lopez said. “Ezra Hendrickson is their coach and I played with him at Chivas. He was a defender, so you know his team is going to be well organized, and they’re going to work hard. But for us, we just have to execute our game plan.”

Republic FC has had an eight-day break since its last match, and Lopez said that gave the players a chance to heal and mentally recharge.

During the Monarchs match, defender Derek Foran and defensive midfielder Ivan Mirkovic had to depart because of injuries. Stalwart defender Mickey Daly, who played in all 27 of Republic FC’s league matches last year, was unavailable because of a hip strain.

But all practiced on Wednesday, and Lopez said the players know they have to play with better resolve.

“Against the Sounders, we’ve got to come out the first minute and go after them,” Lopez said. “Every time we come out sharp, you can tell right away it’s going to be our night. But if we come out lackadaisical, you can see that right away, too. It just spreads throughout the team. It’s contagious and ends up haunting us.”

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

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