Ron Preble knows how challenging it has been for professional soccer in Sacramento.
He has seen several teams come and go through the years, including three in which he was involved.
So what Republic FC has accomplished this season continues to fascinate him, though it doesn’t surprise him, either.
“I’ve seen teams here through the years struggle, struggle and struggle,” said Preble, who coaches men’s soccer at Cosumnes River College. “Now you have some people with know-how who have made good decisions and spent money where needed to market the team and build a fan base.
“They keep hitting the ball out of the park.”
The latest home runs for Republic FC are negotiations trying to get the deep-pocketed owners of the Kings to invest in the USL Pro team while making a fullcourt press-lobbying effort with Major League Soccer officials. That included a meeting Wednesday in Portland, Ore., site of the MLS All-Star Game.
Republic FC president Warren Smith, Kings president Chris Granger and Mayor Kevin Johnson talked about potential sites for a new $100 million soccer stadium in Sacramento, and MLS officials plan to visit as soon as next month.
Preble played for the Sacramento Senators, who lasted one season in 1989, then coached the Sacramento Geckos and the outdoor Sacramento Knights.
The then-USL A League Geckos relocated from New Mexico but lasted only the 1999 season in Sacramento because of debt complications involving the previous owners.
Preble coached the Knights from 2004 to 2006, leading his last team to the National Premier Soccer League championship. Knights owner J.R. Gholar had architectural plans drawn for a $58 million, 30,000-seat stadium at CRC, but by 2009, the team was defunct.
“All the teams that came before had followings and some seed money, but they scrimped in a lot of ways as far as marketing and getting out in the community the way Republic FC has,” said Preble, who has seen five Republic FC matches and often watches the team train at CRC. “Republic FC has done a great job on and off the field. Now with an NBA franchise getting behind them, things have really caught fire.”
Last week’s developments also created even more buzz among the team’s fans, who helped Republic FC post its 12th sellout in 14 home matches Saturday night against Oklahoma City Energy FC at Bonney Field.
A post on Republic FC’s Facebook page after Wednesday’s meeting with MLS officials garnered 78 responses, most positive but a few critical, especially of the potential cost if public money is sought to build a stadium.
The Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Lillis, who covered the MLS talks in Portland, hosted a 75-minute live chat on Friday on Sacbee.com that generated more than 70 questions and comments from readers.
As usual, Smith spent Saturday night moving about the stadium greeting fans, some ecstatic about the latest developments.
“Not one negative,” Smith said. “Everyone is asking how the trip was. We see the Kings banner now up (in front of the Tower Bridge Battalion rooting section) there. Generally, people are supportive. They love this town. They love being part of something special.”
As far as stadium options, Smith said MLS has been steadfast.
“(MLS) has been very clear,” Smith said. “A stadium needs to be within the demographics, where the 18- to 34-year-olds live. It needs to be near bars, restaurants and public transportation. If you look at that, and you are really honest, that narrows it to the downtown area. Where they have had huge success in the league, they’ve focused on downtown.”
Although there is a group in Elk Grove that also is vying for an MLS franchise – and that city is right in the backyard of CRC– Preble agrees with Smith that a downtown stadium is Republic FC’s best option to become an MLS team.
“I think MLS wants that European-type fan experience, similar to what they have in Portland and Seattle,” Preble said.
“You get a little bit of a hook with the pregame stuff. People can go out to dinner. Fans can march to the game, carry their banners, beat their drums. It’s different than just driving to the game, parking and walking in with your ticket.”
MATCH AT A GLANCE
REPUBLIC FC 2, OKC ENERGY FC 1
Adam Jahn got a head on Max Alvarez’s free kick to put it past OKC goalkeeper Samir Badr in the 16th minute. Two minutes later, defender Cyprian Hedrick’s own goal gave Republic FC a 2-0 lead. The goal was set up when Octavio Guzman sailed a ball into the left corner toward Justin Braun. He back-heeled the ball to Chad Bartlome, who dribbled along the goal line toward Badr before blasting a cross into the box toward Jahn that sailed past and hit Hedrick as his momentum carried him into the goal. Republic FC (13-6-3) extended its USL Pro home unbeaten streak to nine games and avenged two early-season 2-0 road losses to OKC (8-9-5).
Momentum changer – After OKC was mostly dominated by Republic FC, Kyle Greig’s goal under goalkeeper Jake Gleeson in the 74th minute gave Energy FC new life. But OKC couldn’t connect on a couple of dangerous free kicks after that.
Another sellout – Saturday’s announced attendance of 8,000 was the 12th sellout in 14 matches at Bonney Field and Hughes Stadium this season. The team continued to add to its USL Pro record attendance, now at 126,107.
Sidelined – Star midfielder Rodrigo Lopez sat out because of a right hamstring injury.
Up next - Republic FC visits Orange County Blues FC at 4 p.m. Aug. 17 in Irvine.