Republic FC players Rodrigo Lopez, Octavio Guzman and David Estrada, all born in Mexico and raised in the United States, are pleased some of their native country’s top soccer teams are making Sacramento a key destination this summer.
That includes Atlas FC, the renowned Guadalajara club that will play Republic FC on Wednesday night in a friendly at Bonney Field. It’s the second consecutive year Atlas FC has come to Sacramento to play Republic FC, and it’s the third of four area friendlies involving teams from Liga MX, Mexico’s top professional division.
Pumas UNAM defeated Toluca FC 1-0 on June 27 at Bonney Field, and Chivas played Club Leon on Tuesday night at Raley Field. Sunderland AFC of the English Premier League will play Pachuca on July 17 at Bonney Field.
I have friends on some of those teams, and they love coming out here. It’s a chance to get away from Mexico a little bit, have a hard preseason match, get some shopping done and see family and friends they have out here.
Republic FC midfielder Rodrigo Lopez
Republic FC also will host friendlies against Sunderland and Newcastle United, another EPL team, next week. Sacramento has become an international soccer hotbed because of Republic FC’s aggressiveness in scheduling friendlies for a rabid fan base at its soccer-specific stadium.
“I think it’s unbelievable for our city that we are having all these high-profile games,” Republic FC coach Preki said. “Everybody who enjoys the game and loves the game, they should really be excited that we attract these teams.”
EPL teams have found the United States enticing for building their brands. For Mexican teams, Lopez said it’s been a tradition to come north, especially to Southern California, during the summer to play in preparation for their seasons.
“Obviously teams like to come (to Sacramento) now,” Lopez said. “I have friends on some of those teams, and they love coming out here. It’s a chance to get away from Mexico a little bit, have a hard preseason match, get some shopping done and see family and friends they have out here.”
While growing up in California, Lopez, Guzman and Estrada followed Liga MX rather than Major League Soccer.
“That league has been a big part of my life,” said Guzman, the second-year midfielder who was born in Guadalajara and raised near Pittsburg and played at Chico State. “I know every team. I’m a big fan of all the players.”
One of Guzman’s highlights last season was playing the final 45 minutes in Republic FC’s 2-1 loss to Atlas FC.
“Soccer around the world is played a little differently,” Guzman said. “So it’s great to be exposed to the philosophy, the style of play and everything a team like Atlas does.”
Guzman followed Atlas growing up only because the team was a rival of his favorite team, Chivas, Guadalajara’s other Liga MX team.
The most beautiful experiences I had playing in MLS were in those stadiums in Mexico. You could see and feel the passion of the fans. It’s definitely special.
Republic FC’s David Estrada
Estrada was born in Morelia and grew up in Salinas. The former UCLA star was a huge follower of Cruz Azul, one of Mexico City’s three Liga MX teams. He played five seasons in MLS with the Seattle Sounders and D.C. United and played against Mexican sides while with the Sounders.
“The Sounders were one of the best teams in MLS, but we always had tough games in Mexico,” Estrada said. “The most beautiful experiences I had playing in MLS were in those stadiums in Mexico. You could see and feel the passion of the fans. It’s definitely special.”
Lopez, a Guadalajara native, comes from a family of loyal Atlas FC fans, including his father and uncle. But Lopez always liked the more successful Chivas (11 Liga MX titles to Atlas’ one), and at 16 he left Santa Barbara for a summer of training with his dream team that led to a pro contract with Chivas’ reserve team.
Lopez said his biggest successes during his two seasons with Chivas came against Atlas FC
“I played against them three times and scored in all three matches,” Lopez said. “It’s a rivalry game you never want to lose. It’s like us and LA (Galaxy II).”
Because of that rivalry with Los Angeles, Lopez and many of Republic FC’s other key starters aren’t expected to play against Atlas FC.
Republic FC (9-6-3, 30 points) shares the Western Conference lead with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (10-5-0, 30 points). LA Galaxy II (9-5-2, 29 points) visits Bonney Field on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a good test for us and the guys that don’t play all that much,” Estrada said of the match against Atlas FC. “It’s a good opportunity for them to show Preki what they can bring to the table.”