Soccer

Sacramento is a friendly hotbed for international soccer

jvillegas@sacbee.com

It takes nerves of steel and a gambler’s guts when assembling a deal to host an international soccer friendly.

“These are very tricky situations,” Republic FC technical director Graham Smith said. “It takes some craft and guile.”

Sacramento will host more international soccer friendlies this summer than any city in the United States.

Republic FC will host five matches from June 27 to July 18 at Bonney Field that will feature English Premier League teams Newcastle United FC and Sunderland AFC and Mexican Liga MX sides Atlas FC, CF Pachuca, Toluca FC and Pumas NAM.

“We need to play these games so our fans can see the best football in the world,” Smith said. “It helps build the Republic brand and continues to enhance our reputation internationally and show that we’re more than just little old Sacramento of the USL.”

With the River Cats also hosting an exhibition of Liga MX teams Chivas and Club Leon on July 7 at Raley Field, there will be six international friendlies in Sacramento in 22 days.

No other city comes close.

“We were interested in celebrating the game at the highest levels, but there was no grand scheme to be the city with the most friendly matches,” Republic FC President Warren Smith said. “We certainly feel it’s good for us on the field side, but it’s also challenging on the business side.”

Last year, Republic FC hosted four friendlies, one each with Atlas and the Rangers FC of Scotland and two with the EPL’s West Bromwich Albion FC.

Warren Smith said the matches were a huge marketing success “and worked out financially for us” and helped build the team’s confidence as they finished the season on a 10-1-1 run en route to the USL title.

Top-level professional teams expect the best accommodations, and Bonney Field seats fewer than 11,500.

But experience helps. Long before he joined Republic FC, Graham Smith made his living bringing foreign teams to the United States through his marketing firm, so he knows how to wheel and deal.

“You commit too soon, and if you have a team that gets relegated or a head coach who gets sacked, you could end up with nothing,” Graham Smith said. “The amount of detail that goes into putting these things together is immense. There are so many deadlines, so many variables; but it goes with the territory. This is valuable cargo. What the players on these teams are earning is staggering.”

Warren and Graham Smith believe they have have hit the right note by bringing heated rivals Newcastle and Sunderland to Sacramento. Both avoided EPL relegation this season, have new coaches (Sunderland’s Dick Advocaat coached the team’s final nine matches of the 2014-15 season) and appear to be making the financial commitments to try to move into the upper echelon of the EPL.

The Smiths also believe they are continuing to make strong inroads with the Latino market.

“Mexican soccer has improved immensely,” Graham Smith said. “Hispanic fans have a real love of the game and the players. It’s great seeing so many Hispanic fans with Republic FC gear on.”

Friendly fest

Here are Sacramento’s six friendly matches

▪ June 27: Toluca FC vs. Pumas NAM, 8 p.m., Bonney Field

▪ July 7: Chivas vs. Club Leon, 7:30 p.m., Raley Field

▪ July 8: Republic FC vs. Atlas FC, 8 p.m., Bonney Field

▪ July 14: Republic FC vs. Sunderland AFC, 8 p.m., Bonney Field

▪ July 17: Sunderland AFC vs. CF Puchuca, 8 p.m., Bonney Field

▪ July 18: Republic FC vs. Newcastle United FC, 8 p.m., Bonney Field

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