Republic FC is looking to win its seventh consecutive match and fifth in USL Pro when it plays Arizona United SC at 7:30 Saturday at sold-out Hughes Stadium, the last of four home matches at Sacramento City College.
The first-year team is scheduled to play the remainder of the regular season at its new Bonney Field stadium at Cal Expo starting with the Colorado Rapids Reserves on June 20.
Republic FC is in fourth place in the USL Pro standings with 19 points. It trails defending champion and Major League Soccer-bound Orlando City (30 points), the Los Angeles Galaxy II (24 points) and the Richmond Kickers (23 points). But those teams have played two more USL Pro matches than Republic FC, which has been on a roll since its 2-1 home-opening loss to the Harrisburg (Pa.) City Islanders on April 26. That came seven days after its 2-1 road loss to Arizona United SC in Phoenix.
During its winning streak, Republic FC (8-3-1 overall, 6-3-1 in USL Pro) has won four USL Pro matches – two at home and two on the road – in addition to two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup victories, all in May. Republic FC is scheduled to play the San Jose Earthquakes in round four of U.S. Open Cup play on Wednesday at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
While still looking for a lot more from his team, Republic FC coach Preki is a little surprised at how well his players have jelled in their maiden season.
“In a lot of ways, we’ve developed earlier than I would think we would,” Preki said. “What I like about us at the moment is that we’re playing as a group, we’re moving the ball as a group, and we’re working hard when we lose the ball to get it back. That’s always a key.
“But I still feel we can go to another level with (defense) and even when we have the ball, we can go to another level, especially in the final third of the field where we need a little more sharpness, little more quality and a little more concentration to put away the chances we have created.”
Arizona United SC (3-5-1 in USL Pro) won four of its first seven matches overall but then dropped three of its past four.
It handed Republic FC its second loss of the season, despite falling behind 1-0 on a Rodrigo Lopez goal in the 27th minute. Brandon Swartzendruber scored the equalizer in the 37th minute, then Jonathan Top connected on the match winner in the 85th minute.
Arizona has six players on loan from MLS – Schillo Tshuma, Rodney Wallace and Bryan Gallego of the Portland Timbers, Jalen Robinson of DC United, Benji Lopez of Real Salt Lake and Top, who is with FC Dallas. Gallego started the season as a loan player with Republic FC.
During its six-match winning streak, Republic FC has outscored opponents 15-4, with Thomas Stewart connecting on four of his team-high five goals during that span. Lopez has three goals and three of his team-high five assists during that span.
Goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek also has played well since taking over for a second time for the injured Jake Gleeson.
The former Sacramento Gold FC player saved a penalty kick and the rebound shot to preserve his third shutout of the season in a 6-0 Open Cup win against the Fresno Fuego on May 28 at Cosumnes River College.
Jakubek has allowed just one goal in his last four appearances and that came on a penalty kick he almost blocked in a 2-1 win over the Dayton Dutch Lions. Jakubek’s record on the year is 6-2-0 and his goals-against average stands at 0.78.
“Dominik has been a calming influence,” said Republic FC technical director Graham Smith, a former goalkeeper. “Jake has been greatly unfortunate with injuries, and Dominik has come in and played well. The double-penalty shot stop was superb.
“What has been good about him is his command in the air of collecting balls in the 6-yard box. When a defender has that behind him, it’s amazing for the confidence.”
Saturday’s match will mark the third sellout of the season for Republic FC and its fourth with more than 17,000 in attendance.
Republic FC holds each of the top four spots in the record book for largest attendance in USL Pro regular-season history.
Preki has been impressed with the fan support at Hughes Stadium but is looking forward to seeing what his team can do on its 120-yard by 80-yard grass pitch at Cal Expo.
“It’s been a great ride for us, and we hope to finish on a high,” Preki said. “But we’re obviously excited to go play on grass.”