Soccer

Sacramento pleases large crowd with win

It’s a bit of a quandary for Republic FC.

The players and coaches love playing at Hughes Stadium, where on Saturday night they drew another huge crowd in beating Orange County Blues FC 2-1.

An announced crowd of 17,414 filled the historic Sacramento City College stadium one week after the first-year pro soccer franchise set a USL Pro regular-season record with a sellout of 20,231 for their inaugural home opener.

Once again the atmosphere was electrifying, festive and uplifting, despite the wind and cold temperature.

But on the flip side, the cozy confines of the stadium isn’t the best fit for Republic FC’s style of play.

Hughes Stadium has a soccer field that is 68-yard wide, largely because it has a surrounding track. Designed primarily for football, the field also has synthetic turf, which makes the ball move extremely fast.

Pro soccer teams prefer to play on a field that is 80-yard wide and with a grass surface, something Republic FC’s new $3 million, 8,000-seat Bonney Stadium will feature. The stadium is under construction and is supposed to be ready for the June 7 match against Arizona FC.

“The style of play Preki has for us is to keep the ball, play with the ball,” midfielder Rodrigo Lopez said. “Obviously, playing on a bigger field will benefit us more.

“But we’re not making excuses. We will play anywhere they have us play – but the fans have made Hughes a great place to play.”

Republic learned a lot from its 2-1 loss to the Harrisburg (Pa.) City Islanders last week.

“Against Harrisburg, we weren’t able to create too many chances, so give them the credit,” Lopez said. “A lot had to do with us going down a goal early in the first half, then again early in the second half.

“They were able to sit back, and that makes it tougher on a smaller field because there are fewer gaps and smaller places to play in.”

But against Orange County, Republic FC pressured and probed throughout and, except for a brief defensive breakdown – something that has plagued Sacramento in several matches – dominated play for much of the match in moving to 3-3-1 on the season while snapping a two-match losing streak.

In the 42nd minute, Thomas Stewart scored on a bending left-side cross that Orange County goalie Patrick McLain got a hand on but couldn’t clear from landing in the goal. Orange County (2-5) tied it in the 48th minute when an unmarked Allan Russell headed in a Jiovanni Santana cross from the back post.

Target forward Adam Jahn headed in the winner in the upper right corner on a cross by Nemanja Vikovic in the 70th minute.

While Preki was pleased with how well his team responded after last week’s disappointing loss, he gets annoyed when the challenges of playing at Hughes are broached.

“It is what it is,” Preki said. “We’ve got to go into games (at Hughes) with a good mentality, the right mentality and not think about the size of the field but figure out how we are going to penetrate a defense, how we can make things happen with the space given us.”

Mission accomplished.

Republic FC, which has a bye next weekend, has at least one more match scheduled at Hughes Stadium on May 17, when it hosts the Los Angeles Galaxy II.

If construction remains on schedule, Republic FC will play its final 11 regular-season home matches at Bonney Field.

“Having a field as big as we want will be nice,” Lopez said. “While the crowds won’t be as big as we’ve had at Hughes, we should have sellouts every match if we do our jobs on the field. It will be the hot ticket in town.”


MATCH AT A GLANCE

• Jahn scores again: Former Jesuit High School and Stanford star Adam Jahn, on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes, scored for the second time in his second match with Republic FC. Known as “pillow feet” for his touch on the ball, the 6-foot-2 Jahn is good in the air, too. He scored the winning goal on a header from a cross by Ivan Mirkovic in the 70th minute. Jahn also scored on a header in the Republic FC’s 2-1 loss to the Harrisburg (Pa.) City Islanders in the home opener last week.

• Goalie returns: After missing the three previous matches with a groin injury, Jake Gleeson returned to the goalie box. On loan from the Portland Timbers, he had two saves, including turning back a Chris Cortez breakaway attempt midway in the second half.

• Big draws: The announced crowd of 17,414 outdrew three of the seven MLS matches played Saturday.

– Bill Paterson

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