There isn’t a Republic FC player who has sprinted up and down the field more this season than outside defender Emrah Klimenta.
Last Saturday, Klimenta logged 90 grueling minutes in the 100-plus-degree heat in Republic FC’s 2-1 come-from-behind win over Arizona United SC in Scottsdale, Ariz. He limped through the final minutes with leg cramps.
Three days later, he played a marathon 120 minutes in Republic FC’s thrilling, wide-open 6-5 penalty kick shootout loss to the host San Jose Earthquakes in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Avaya Stadium.
So don’t be surprised if Republic FC’s ironman is again in the starting lineup Saturday night when Sacramento hosts OKC Energy FC in a key USL Western Conference match at Bonney Field. It’s the one-year anniversary of the Cal Expo stadium’s inaugural match.
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Klimenta is the only Sacramento player to start all 19 Republic games this year, including 14 in the USL. He also has played a team-leading 1,630 minutes.
That’s impressive because Klimenta often puts in more mileage on the field than any other player during a match.
Although he’s a defender, he’s also a key to Republic’s offensive attack, often sprinting down the line to serve up crosses and attack the net. He is third on the team in shots with 25 and has two goals and two assists.
“Every position on the field is demanding, but especially that one,” said Republic coach Preki. “He’s been working pretty hard. That’s why he is playing; that’s why he is getting better every time.”
Against the Earthquakes, Klimenta factored in both Republic goals. Shortly after kickoff, Klimenta took a long lofted ball from Rodrigo Lopez on the right side, dribbled into the box and was tripped by San Jose defender Shaun Francis. Lopez buried the sixth-minute penalty kick.
Lopez then found Klimenta again with a well-placed 35-yard through-ball along the right sideline in the 54th minute. Klimenta got a nice touch on it before blasting the shot under San Jose goalkeeper Bryan Meredith on the near post.
“As soon he got the ball, I looked at the back four and saw they were ball-watching him,” Klimenta said. “That’s why Roro is such a great player. He has vision and knows where everyone is on the field.”
That gave Republic a 2-0 lead, but a brace by San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski late in the second half knotted the score 2-2. Both teams played through two 15-minute overtimes before the grueling match was settled on PKs.
In the final minutes, Klimenta again was hobbling, a victim of cramps. It didn’t stop him from taking the would-be winning penalty kick, only to see Meredith make a diving save.
“San Jose was an incredible game,” Klimenta said. “I like to think it was my best game of my career so far. I did everything on the defensive end, made runs and tried to make plays happen. It’s just a cruel way to go out on PKs.”
Klimenta said he didn’t get to sleep until 3:30 a.m. while replaying the match in his mind and watching the video replay.
“Insomnia gets the best of me after games,” said Klimenta, who was born in Montenegro but grew up in the Bay Area. “Obviously, I kept thinking about the penalty I missed that would have sent us through (to the next round). But the boys all came up to me after and said to keep my head up, that I had a great game.”
Klimenta said his legs felt like logs on Wednesday. But a “replenishing workout” at practice that included light jogging, stretching and message helped get his blood flowing.
“I think it’s mentality,” Klimenta said. “If you think you are too sore, too tired, it’s just going to get the best of you. I just think positive, get lots of sleep and take care of my body. It helps that we have a great training staff.”
Preki gave Klimenta and several of the starters who played against the Quakes the day off Thursday before putting everyone through a short practice on Friday.
“I’m just watching everybody, how they are doing physically and who is sharp in training,” Preki said. “We’ll make the decisions about who can play on Saturday.”
Klimenta said the players won’t be concernced about fatigue.
Energy FC is a keen Republic FC rival, and not just because Oklahoma City is riding a five-match USL win streak (OKC fell 4-1 to FC Dallas in their U.S. Open Cup match) and was atop the Western Conference standings entering Friday night.
Energy FC has beaten Republic FC three times in Oklahoma City, including 2-1 in a storm on May 23 as Lopez received a red card for “violent conduct” in the ninth minute. He was suspended for the last three USL matches and has tried to downplay any revenge scenarios, calling it “just another game to me.”
But Klimenta said “it’s massive” having Lopez, the team’s goal-scoring leader, back in the lineup and that the match is huge for Sacramento (7-6-1, 22 points). The Republic has sputtered at times, while OKC (7-2-3, 24 points) is surging behind forwards Danni Konig (eight goals, three assists) and Kyle Greig (five goals, one assist).
“We’re looking forward to giving our crowd something to cheer about,” Klimenta said. “If we win, we have a chance to move back into first place, where we hope to stay. We know that if we play the way we did against San Jose, no team in the USL can beat us.”
United Soccer League
OKC Energy FC vs. Republic FC
Saturday: 8 p.m.
Where: Bonney Field, Cal Expo
TV: Ch 31
Radio: KHTK 1140