Republic FC may hold its fate in its hands, but it doesn’t control the weather.
Wednesday night’s crucial USL Western Conference match against the Orange County Blues FC in Irvine was postponed until Sept. 22 because of poor field conditions caused by recent storms.
Thanks to Sacramento’s strong late-season run and the USL’s topsy-turvy Western Conference race, Republic FC can lock up first place by winning its final two matches: Saturday night against Arizona United SC at sold-out Bonney Field and the regular-season finale against Orange County at UC Irvine.
5 Goals by Republic FC captain Justin Braun in the last four matches
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Republic FC moved into position for the conference title by beating the Portland Timbers FC 2 3-0 while the OKC Energy FC and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC tied 3-3 Saturday.
Orange County and Colorado Springs are 14-9-4 and share first place with 46 points. But both have just one league match to play. Republic FC (13-8-5) and OKC (12-7-8) are tied for third with 44 points. But the Energy FC also has just one match left, tonight at Arizona.
Republic FC is the only team that could finish with 50 points. But two losses could drop Sacramento as low as fifth place.
The conference champion earns a first-round bye and the potential to host at least two playoff matches. A fifth-place finish would put Sacramento on the road in the opening round.
Having won three consecutive matches, Republic FC has been one of the hottest teams in the USL. It is also undefeated in its last five matches overall and its past seven on the road.
Captain Justin Braun has led the way with four goals in the past two matches and five in the past four. The Major League Soccer veteran had three in the team’s previous 22 league matches.
Coach Paul Buckle, who is 4-1-2 since taking over for Preki, said one of the team’s keys has been to get Braun closer to the goal.
“We know that Braun does a lot of work outside the box and is a good defender, but I want him in the 18-yard box,” Buckle said. “That’s where he is really dangerous for us.”
Defender Emrah Klimenta said Braun’s recent prolific scoring has given the team a huge confidence boost.
“Even when Justin isn’t scoring or creating chances, the one thing you can’t take away from him is his hard work,” Klimenta said. “He’ll do the little things to help the team. But five goals in four matches is massive for us.”
Braun isn’t the only one providing a spark. Midfielder Rodrigo Lopez, who tore up the USL the first half of the season, scored what proved to be the winning goal in the 13th minute against Portland.
It was Lopez’s first goal since he scored twice in a 3-1 win at Tulsa on June 25. Lopez still leads the team in goals (10) and assists (five).
On Saturday, Republic FC faces an Arizona United team (10-15-1) that will be playing for pride, since it has no chance of making the playoffs. In its only other meeting this season, Republic FC won 2-1 on June 13 on Danny Barrera’s 83rd-minute goal at Scottsdale Stadium.
On Sept. 22, Republic FC meets an Orange County team that has been the surprise of the league behind first-year coach Oliver Wyss. The Blues, who finished second-to-last in the former 14-team USL last season, are 7-1-3 in their past 11 matches. The team is 9-3-1 at home.
4-1-2 Paul Buckle’s record as Republic FC’s coach