The electric atmosphere, jubilant crowds and stirring soccer followed Republic FC to its new digs at Cal Expo on Friday night.
The first-year expansion team christened Bonney Field with a 4-3 win over the Colorado Rapids Reserves, much to the delight of a boisterous announced sellout crowd of 8,000 that jammed into the $3 million stadium that workers put the finishing touches on throughout the day.
It was Republic FC’s fourth sellout of its five USL Pro home matches. The first three came at 20,000-plus Hughes Stadium, a hit with the fans but not the ideal playing size or surface for a team trying to win a USL Pro championship in its inaugural season.
What Republic FC lost in seating was more than made up for by the intimate atmosphere that put fans closer to a large, sparkling grass field. Seatback chairs in white and maroon spelled out SRFC in large letters on both sides of the stadium before they were filled by spectators.
Carried over from Hughes Stadium were the fan zone, beer garden and concession booths – and, of course, the Tower Bridge Battalion that stood and cheered throughout from behind the south goal.
More importantly, the play on the expansive field proved fast and furious as the teams combined for 29 shots. The seven goals were a season high for a Republic FC match.
But the privately funded facility couldn’t have opened without a last-minute push from workers from Republic FC, Bonney Plumbing, Ovations Food and Otto Construction, which oversaw the building of the stadium.
Even before Friday morning’s ribbon-cutting amid the sound of power drills and saws, Republic FC president Warren Smith helped direct workers in the retooling of a wheelchair ramp that was too high along one of the grandstands.
Fifteen years earlier, Smith, one of the River Cats’ founders , was at Raley Field overseeing the installation of seats just a few hours before the Triple-A club made its home debut.
“It was just like this,” Smith said. “We had a press conference that morning, and we were putting in seats. Just like then, we had to make some last-minute decisions, some small issues that we’re working through that have to get done today.”
Nearly 50 members of the Republic FC staff installed seatbacks the night before, and an emergency shipment of bleacher parts had to be found and trucked from Kentucky earlier in the week.
Bonney Plumbing CEO and co-owner Jimmy Crabbe, whose company has the stadium naming rights, worked throughout the day and evening Thursday seeing that the showers would be ready for the players after a delay in the work.
“I wasn’t lugging around a wrench, but I was trying to get as many guys out here as I could,” Crabbe said. “We still had eight guys working here at 11 p.m., so it was a 16-hour day at that point for them.
“We were grateful they stepped up to the plate. It was great to see everyone roll up their sleeves to pull this off. It’s just amazing. Couldn’t be happier to be associated with this team and with this field.”
It was the last big project for Otto Construction manager Debora Fee, who oversaw the three-month project and will retire next week.
MATCH AT A GLANCE
REPUBLIC FC 4, COLORADO RAPIDS RESERVES 3
• Player of the match: Veteran midfielder Rodrigo Lopez scored two goals and assisted on a third, all in the first half. He made a perfectly placed cross that Justin Braun headed in for a 1-1 tie in the 20th minute. Nineteen minutes later, Lopez picked up a loose ball that goalkeeper Joe Nasco couldn’t corral after stopping a Braun one vs. one and scored. Three minutes later, Lopez was on the board again with a blast from the top of the box off an assist from Nemanja Vukovic. “It’s not the prettiest win, but we fought hard for 90 minutes,” said Lopez, who has five goals and seven assists this season. “I hope everyone had fun.”
• Goal of the match: With the score tied 3-3 in the 84th minute, Chad Bartlome put a through ball to the left side to an onrushing Mike Fucito, back on loan from the Earthquakes. He chipped the ball over diving backup goalkeeper John Berner, then ran down the ball and scored from the right corner on an open net.
• Quote: “I have really mixed feelings about this game tonight,” Republic FC coach Preki said. “It’s great we found a way to get three points, an important three points. But at the same time, we have to be a lot smarter, a lot better. From the fans’ perspective, it was a great evening – seven goals and, obviously, we came out on top. But this probably was our poorest performance this year, especially defensively.”
• Next up: Republic FC will host Arizona United SC at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at Bonney Field.
– Bill Paterson