Sacramento becomes summer destination for English Premier League teams

Republic FC greets fans after a game between the Sacramento Republic FC and Real Monarchs SLC on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at Bonney Field in Sacramento.
Republic FC greets fans after a game between the Sacramento Republic FC and Real Monarchs SLC on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at Bonney Field in Sacramento. Andrew Seng

European soccer heavyweights Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United are coming to America this summer to showcase their highly lucrative brands.

While Newcastle United FC isn’t on that scale, the 123-year-old club competes in the same top-level English Premier League with 2014-15 champion Chelsea and 13-time champion Manchester United.

So it’s an impressive coup for a minor-league professional team like Republic FC to lure the EPL club to Bonney Field for a friendly on July 18, highlighting Sacramento Soccer Day. And Republic FC is expected to announce Friday that another EPL team will play in Sacramento in July.

After Republic FC played two matches against EPL’s West Bromwich Albion FC last July at Bonney Field, Sacramento has seemingly become a destination for the world’s top-rated pro soccer league.

“It makes a strong statement to Major League Soccer that Sacramento is able to compete for clubs of this level,” said Republic FC technical director Graham Smith. “It’s quite a privilege to host teams of this stature.”

The Newcastle game will be the second of a three-match U.S. visit for the Magpies, which avoided EPL relegation this year by beating West Ham 2-0 in the season finale. It finished 15th in the 20-team league, though three seasons ago it finished fifth.

“It’s an exciting fixture for us and, obviously, it’s good to have Premier League quality to come play against, and it certainly puts Sacramento even more on the map,” said Republic FC forward Thomas Stewart, a Northern Ireland native who grew up rooting for Manchester United. “They play in one of the best leagues in the world, if not the best. With its transfer activity, it gets the best players in the world coming and going.”

Newcastle is playing Atlas FC on July 14 (Republic FC plays host to the Liga MX side July 8) in Milwaukee and the Portland Timbers FC 2 on July 21 in Portland. The Timbers FC 2 are in the USL with Republic FC.

European teams come to the United States to expose their brand to the growing American soccer market while also using the trip as their version of baseball’s spring training. Newcastle competed last summer in New Zealand.

“The U.S. is a key territory for the Premier League and the huge increase in the numbers of U.S. viewers watching Premier League games over the last couple of seasons mean this is a perfect time for us to head across the Atlantic,” said managing director Lee Charnley on the Newcastle United FC website announcing the tour.

The EPL season begins in early August, so June and July are critical months for Newcastle as the Magpies acclimate to a new coach and purchase new players from the $119 million it received from last season’s EPL broadcasting and commercial rights.

“They are not coming here on holiday,” Smith said. “It’s serious business for them. Jobs are at stake.”

The BBC is reporting that former England National Men’s Team Coach Steve McClaren will be hired as Newcastle’s new manager next week. McClaren will replace interim manager John Carver, who in turn took over for Alan Pardew. The former 2011-12 EPL Manager of the Season bolted for Crystal Palace in January.

Among the team’s top players are Neatherlands goalkeeper Tim Krul, Argentina defender Fabricio Coloccini, French midfielder Moussa Sissoko and Senegal forward Papiss Cisse, all national team players for their respective countries.

Republic FC forward David Estrada, who played last season with the Seattle Sounders and D.C. United, said getting to face such a high caliber team will bring out the best in his teammates, even though it is an exhibition.

“It’s exciting for the players, the fans, the organization to play a club like Newcastle United,” Estrada said. “We want to measure ourselves against the best in the world.”

Stewart expects the Newcastle match will have an “edge to it.”

“Every player wants to play against better teams, better players,” Stewart said. “No matter what time of the year it is for Newcastle, it’s going to be a good occasion. Once they come over the white line, they are going to be professional, exactly the same as us.”

Last year at Bonney Field, Republic FC outplayed West Bromich Albion FC in the first meeting, though the Baggies prevailed 1-0. West Bromich had an easier time four days later in beating Sacramento 3-1. The team finished 13th in the EPL this past season.

Those two friendlies were part of a busy July for Republic FC, which played nine matches during the month.

Currently, Republic FC has five July matches scheduled, including two in the USL as well as the July 8 friendly against Atlas FC.

“This time around I think this schedule is pretty decent, and that the game is going to be handy for us,” said Republic FC coach Preki. “Hopefully the guys will enjoy it.”

Next match

  • Who: Republic F.C. vs. Austin Aztex
  • When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Bonney Field
  • TV: Ch. 31
  • Radio: 1140
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