It was a friendly, not a formal, against Atlas FC on Sunday night at Bonney Field, and 10 of the 11 normal Republic FC starters were in casual street clothes. No suit and ties for coach Preki and his team. It was too hot. Jeans and T-shirts were just fine as the temperature at game time of the loss to Atlas was 100 degrees.
And with Monday night’s important USL Pro home match against the Orange County Blues FC on the tail of the rare back-to-back, rest and hydration were key. Because of the heat and humidity of the last few days, Republic FC and the Blues FC agreed to push Monday’s start time to 8 p.m., a half hour later than usual.
Republic (9-5-2) beat Orange County (8-9) 2-1, with the Blues falling two spots behind Sacramento in the USL Pro playoffs chase. The game was supposed to be played on Friday, but a 40-acre brush fire that burned near Bonney Field’s south end forced the game to be postponed until Monday night. It was a balmy 92 at opening kick Monday.
It’s only the second time this season that Republic FC has played back-to-back games. The first set came April 12-13, when Sacramento lost to Orange County 2-1 but beat Los Angeles Galaxy II 3-0.
“I’ve always said that the USL Pro is one of the toughest leagues to play in the world,” Republic FC goalkeeper Dominick Jakubek said after stopping seven shots Sunday. “We have a lot of travel and lots of games. These back-to-backs are tough on the guys in front of me, not so much on us goalies, and most of our starters were held out (Sunday).”
Max Alvarez, who scored Republic FC’s lone goal in the 40th minute Sunday, was suited up as a backup Monday. He played 45 minutes. Tommy Thompson played 67 minutes against Atlas, a Liga MX First Division squad from Guadalajara, Mexico. Coming off a knee injury that sidelined him the past six months, Thompson said he appreciated the minutes on the field Sunday and was ready for the back-to-back games.
“I grew up here, so the heat doesn’t really bother me,” said Thompson, who played for Granite Bay High School. “You just have to eat right and always drink lots of fluids.”
But Thompson admits he has one advantage over many of the players on the pitch Monday night regardless of colored jersey – his youth.
“I’m only 18,” Thompson said with a wry smile. “I know these back-to-backs are a lot tougher on the older guys.”
Gene Grapel and his daughter, Alayna, are season-ticket holders in Section 115 on the east side of Bonney Field. The sunny side. The “Wow, what were we thinking?” side.
“Yeah, when I got the tickets, I didn’t think about it,” said Gene Grapel, who said he has a base tan as a UPS driver. “I will definitely look for tickets on the west side next season. But we always have lots of water and wear hats and, of course, sunglasses.”
The 8 p.m. start helped, Gene Grapel said, especially with high clouds keeping the fans in some shade until just about 10 minutes before the game’s start. Still, he and Alayna agreed, Monday’s temperature was a lot better than Sunday’s.
“(Sunday) night was much, much worse,” he said.
MATCH AT A GLANCE
REPUBLIC FC 2, ORANGE COUNTY BLUES FC 1
Player of the match: Republic FC midfielder Rodrigo Lopez had several corners and crosses that should have been converted, one cross sailing past two surprised Republic FC players near the 10-yard line. Because of a yellow card issued to Lopez in the 87th minute Monday, he’ll have to sit out the next game because he was on warning for getting a yellow against OKC Energy FC June 28.
Goal of the match: Republic FC midfielder Octavio Guzman gathered a loose ball approximately 25 yards out in the third minute of stoppage time and hammered a low laser between two diving Orange County Blues FC defenders. Blues goalie Patrick McLain didn’t see the shot until it was too late, and the ball ruffled the net on the right side.
Up next: Sacramento travels to the East Coast for a game Saturday at the Richmond Kickers, who are in second place in the USL Pro. Republic FC plays at the Charlotte Eagles on July 14, then returns to Bonney Field on July 17 for five games in 10 days, including friendlies against Rangers FC and West Bromwich Albion of the English Premier League.