Soccer

Republic FC’s new director of football says ‘buck will stop with me’

Graham Smith says his moving from Republic FC’s technical director to the new position of director of football this week is another sign of the dramatic evolution of a youthful franchise with mature aspirations.

Paul Buckle, hired last month to replace Preki, now adds technical director to his duties as the club’s top coach.

“I’m still in charge of football,” said Smith, who joined the franchise in 2013 and will continue to oversee player personnel as well as the big picture. “The buck will still stop with me. If something fails on the football side, it’s still my responsibility, and I accept that.”

But Smith said it makes sense to take advantage of Buckle’s considerable experience, expertise and energy. Buckle spent years coaching at various levels in the United Kingdom and has a reputation for being hands on and detail-oriented.

We have a visionary, workaholic coach like Paul who is here 24/7 and can spot what is and what is not required from top to bottom.

Graham Smith, Republic FC’s new director of football, on Paul Buckle, the team’s coach and new technical director

In one of his more recent stops, Buckle took a youth academy in New York City that was about to lose its affiliation with the U.S. Soccer Federation and quickly turned it around.

With Republic FC’s academy program just getting off the ground, Smith said Buckle, 44, is the perfect guy to bridge the top club and its fledgling youth development system.

“We have a visionary, workaholic coach like Paul who is here 24/7 and can spot what is and what is not required from top to bottom,” Smith said. “His knowledge of the U.S. Academy system is extensive, so I have the utmost confidence in Paul. He will make my life easier.”

Buckle also has good public-relations sense. He’s already held several informative question-and-answer sessions with team followers.

Smith, who is 67 and lives in Southern California but spends considerable time in Sacramento, said he will be busier than ever.

One of the club’s next projects is to start a Premier Development League team that can keep area college players within the top team’s sphere of influence. That could include many coming out of Republic FC’s academy program.

Smith was a founder of the highly successful Ventura County Fusion FC, coaching the 2009 team to the PDL national championship. There are a number of Fusion alumni on the Republic FC roster, including midfielders Rodrigo Lopez, Ivan Mirkovic and Danny Barrera and defenders Mickey Daly and James Kiffe.

But as Smith notes, there are former Ventura County players spread throughout professional soccer and one, Gyasi Zardes of the LA Galaxy and U.S. men’s national team, is being sought by top European clubs.

Farther down the road, once Republic FC gets the green light to Major League Soccer, will be the formation of another USL team.

The USL continued its dramatic expansion with the announcement Wednesday that the MLS Philadelphia Union will put a team into the third-division league for next season.

“We’ve already made a massive investment in the academy program with initially no tangible (financial) return,” Smith said. “So all these things are about the future of the football club.”

More teams come aboard – The USL continued its dramatic expansion with the announcement Wednesday that the MLS Philadelphia Union will put a team into the third-division league next season. Lehigh Valley of Bethlehem, Pa., is one of three new expansion teams for 2016.

The Houston Dynamo-sponsored Rio Grande Valley FC and FC Cincinnati, which will be coached by former U.S. men’s national team star John Harkes, were added earlier this summer.

USL Commissioner Jake Edwards has said that there could be as many as 30 teams playing in the USL next year.

This season, the USL expanded from 14 to 24 teams and was divided into two 12-team conferences. With the Philadelphia Union and Houston Dynamo jumping in, MLS will have 10 teams represented in the league.

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

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