Sacramento Republic FC opens USL with familiar local face and new weapons on offense

This goal by Jesuit graduate Cameron Iwasa made Sacramento Republic FC history

This is Jesuit graduate Cameron Iwasa's record-breaking goal. The Sacramento Republic FC forward now holds the record for most goals in team history, with 27.
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This is Jesuit graduate Cameron Iwasa's record-breaking goal. The Sacramento Republic FC forward now holds the record for most goals in team history, with 27.

And to think there was a time when Cameron Iwasa wasn’t sure he wanted to play soccer in college, or for his hometown Sacramento Republic FC. He also wasn’t sure he wanted to play in Major League Soccer, though he could soon get the chance. And he wants it.

Iwasa was a third baseman in 2011, his senior year at Jesuit High School. The other corner infielder, at first, was some kid named Rhys Hoskins. Iwasa and the then-future and now-star of the Philadelphia Phillies even had matching .303 batting averages for a team that won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I North championship.

Iwasa said he weighed a baseball offer from University of the Pacific and another from Sacramento State that included the possibility of playing both sports. But he decided to play soccer at UC Irvine.

Wise choice.

The forward heads into Republic FC’s USL opener Saturday night eager to follow a 2018 season that saw him break his club record with 17 USL goals (with a team-high six assists) and club marks for all-competition goals (34) and USL goals (30). He was named to the USL All-League second team for the second time.

Republic FC placed second in the Western Conference last season. Iwasa and the club thought they had a chance to win Sacramento’s second USL championship (2014), but Republic FC was eliminated by the Swope Park Rangers in the first round of the USL Cup playoffs.

Changes were made in the offseason, notably to give the offense a boost. Sacramento was eighth out of 33 teams in shots but 15th in goals last year.

The front office received a boost of its own when it was announced in January that Ron Burkle agreed to become the lead investor for Republic FC. Burkle is the billionaire co-owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins and could be the final piece to Sacramento landing an MLS franchise.

That’s exciting for the homegrown Iwasa, Republic FC’s longest-tenured player, but it doesn’t change his focus on the dawn of this season; nor does it alter the team’s goals.

“From my perspective, there are two sides: You see that announcement, and it’s impossible not to get excited about this city getting a team. It’s my chance to do this with this team as well,” said Iwasa, 25. “But you gotta take a step back. We’re in USL, not MLS. It doesn’t affect what we need to get done on the field this year. My job on this day is to win games in the USL. But it’s really exciting for someone who has grown up here.

“Big picture, I’m absolutely, extremely excited about, it. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds, but we’re honing in on the task at hand in the USL.”

Republic FC added striker Stefano Bonomo and midfielders Sam Werner and Drew Skundrich. Bonomo won the 2016 USL Cup with Red Bulls II and was teammates with Republic FC backup goalie Rafael Diaz.

Iwasa said Bonomo “frees up a ton of space for me” and instantly makes forward Tyler Blackwood a dynamic player.

“(Bonomo) is a huge piece for us,” Iwasa said. “He’s very dangerous in front of the goal.”

Iwasa describes Werner as a good finisher who’s strong one on one. Werner scored the winning goal to give Stanford its third consecutive NCAA championship in 2017. Skundrich was a Cardinal teammate.

“We have five or six attacking options for four positions,” Iwasa said. “You combine those things, and it’s gonna be a very, very potent attack this year.”

Meanwhile, Iwasa expects Republic FC’s defense to be as stingy as usual, “if not better.” Sacramento allowed 34 goals last season, third-best in the league, and tied for ninth with 12 clean sheets.

“That’s a credit to the defense and Josh (Cohen) in goal,” Iwasa said. “If we can boost how many goals we score, we’re going to be one hell of a team to deal with. We legitimately have the talent to do it.”

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