Republic FC coach Paul Buckle hadn’t reached his hotel room when he got the call Tuesday afternoon.
Anteaters Stadium, Orange County Blues FC’s home field at UC Irvine, was under water because of heavy thunderstorms. Buckle was informed that the critical USL match would not go on as scheduled Wednesday night.
Buckle was given a choice: Stay in Irvine and play Thursday or return next Tuesday for a match that could determine the Western Conference championship.
“Neither choice was ideal,” Buckle said. “But staying wasn’t going to work. We had nothing arranged in the hotel or for training the next day. We would have had to travel back Friday to play a big home game the next night. The players would have been susceptible to injury. So we picked up our bags and got back on the plane.”
The decision also affects Saturday’s regular-season home finale against Arizona United SC at sold-out Bonney Field. Instead of Sacramento potentially celebrating a first-place finish and having the home-field advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs with a win, the match will serve as a prelude to Tuesday’s finale in Irvine.
So Buckle is impressed with his players’ attitude, will and resilience.
“Although it was a big disappointment for us because we were in a very good place after our last victory, there was no moaning (about the postponement),” Buckle said. “They’ve had a good, solid mentality. They came in and trained well Thursday and Friday.”
Republic FC is unbeaten in its past five matches, including three wins in a row. Sacramento clobbered the Timbers 2 3-0 last Saturday in Portland as team leaders Justin Braun and Rodrigo Lopez provided the scoring.
3Consecutive wins by Republic FC
Sacramento also played without San Jose Earthquakes loaners Tommy Thompson and JJ Koval. Quakes coach Dominic Kinnear kept the young midfielders in San Jose as insurance because of injuries and international call-ups, and Buckle says they aren’t expected to return to Sacramento.
Forward Mark Sherrod remains on loan to Republic FC from San Jose and had his first full week of training in Sacramento this week.
“I think that it was brilliant when we got the three guys in,” Buckle said of the trio’s contributions to a 3-1 win over the Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Aug. 29 at Bonney Field. “They raised the bar for our performance levels. But as we’ve lost players, others have stepped up. Everyone is hungry.”
That includes goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek, who had spent the entire USL season riding the bench behind Patrick McLain, who suffered a shoulder injury in a Sept. 4 training session. Jakubek, who played well in wins over the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 and Portland, is expected to remain as the team’s lone healthy goalkeeper through the regular season.
Buckle has opted not to sign a backup keeper even though the USL gives teams that option when there is an injury after the Sept. 1 roster freeze.
“There is great unity between goalkeepers, and I want to keep that,” Buckle said. “Pat is fairly close now to being healthy. But if I rush him back now and the shoulder goes, there will be no recovery time. You can sometimes get away with having one goalie in the regular season, but in a playoff situation, there is no room to maneuver.”
While Republic FC (13-8-5, 44 points) has been hot, Arizona United SC (10-16-1, 31 points) enters on a three-match losing streak and is out of the playoffs. Arizona is 4-9-0 on the road and has been outscored 34-12 away from home. Sacramento beat United SC 2-1 on June 13 in Scottsdale, Ariz., on goals by Agustin Cazarez and Danny Barrera.
3Straight losses by Arizona United SC, which visits Bonney Field on Saturday night
Republic FC enters the match in fourth place but could move into a first-place tie with the OKC Energy FC (13-7-8, 47 points) with a win and if the second-place Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (14-9-4, 46 points) loses its home match Saturday night against the fifth-place LA Galaxy II. Orange County also is in second place.