Republic FC still has shot at title after playing Arizona to draw

Republic FC forward Justin Braun, middle, and defender Mickey Daly, left, fight for the ball during the first half Saturday against Arizona at Bonney Field.
Republic FC forward Justin Braun, middle, and defender Mickey Daly, left, fight for the ball during the first half Saturday against Arizona at Bonney Field.

It was if Arizona United SC goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski had magnets in his gloves Saturday night against Republic FC at Bonney Field.

Everything that Sacramento put on frame seemed to find the 6-foot-5 Woszczynski’s big mitts.

Woszczynski, easily the man of the match, had seven huge saves and though Republic FC outshot Arizona 24 to 6 and had 10 corner kicks, the result was a scoreless draw that snapped Sacramento’s three-match winning streak.

“He won’t be getting a Christmas card from me, that’s for sure,” Republic FC coach Paul Buckle said. “He saved everything.”

While frustrating for the Republic players, coaches and fans among the announced sellout of 11,424, the result doesn’t kill Republic FC’s bid to win the USL Western Conference championship.

Sacramento (13-8-6, 45 points) can still claim first place, a first-round bye and two potential home playoff matches with a win on Tuesday at the second place Orange County Blues FC (14-9-4, 46 pts). OKC Energy FC leads the division with 47 points, but its regular season is over.

Republic FC was originally scheduled to play in Irvine on Wednesday. But stormy weather and wet conditions at UC Irvine, where the OC Blues play, forced postponement of the match.

The draw with ninth place Arizona (10-16-2, 32 pts.) extended Republic FC’s unbeaten streak to six consecutive matches and guarantees at least a first-round home playoff match and no worse than a fourth place finish.

“That’s good news,” Buckle said of the home match. “I think we deserve that.”

Although out of playoff contention and on a three-match losing streak, the Arizona players seemed to feed off Bonney Field’s raucous crowd and would not yield despite Sacramento’s pressure throughout the match, including a 14-1 shot advantage in the first half.

“I didn’t think it was going to be one of the nights when we weren’t going to score,” Buckle said. “The boys are disappointed. I’m disappointed. I thought we did enough to win the game.”

Twelve Republic FC players peppered the goal area with shots. Forwards Justin Braun, having scored four goals in the last two games, and Thomas Stewart had some big opportunities inside the box.

In the 74th minute Rodrigo Lopez slotted a ball to Stewart as he broke behind the defense and found himself in a one-on-one with the goalie. But Woszczynski came off his line and nabbed Stewart's attempt.

Stewart had another golden opportunity in the 27th minute after Danny Barrera’s shot hit the post. Woszczynski had gone out to try and block the shot, but the ricochet landed at Stewart’s feet six yards in front of the open goal. But Stewart mishit his first attempt, then Woszczynski rushed back in to prevent his second shot from entering the net.

That play came a minute after Lopez put a through ball to Braun. He worked his way inside of the box, then made a crafty spin move to create space against his defender. But his eight-yard shot was right at Woszcynski, and he easily knocked it away.

Buckle was relieved that Republic FC didn’t allow a goal and at least earned a valuable point.

It’s been a common theme for Republic FC, especially at home, to dominate possession, outshoot the other team by a wide margin, then surrender a soft goal on a counter attack.

“I’m just glad we were solid towards the end because I was worried we were going to concede,” Buckle said. “Then it would have been a double whammy for us. … It would have been a travesty if we lost the game.”

While overshadowed by Woszczynski, Republic FC goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek earned his second consecutive shutout in his third straight USL start since replacing the injured Patrick McLain (left shoulder).

Jakubek made three saves in the final 30 minutes, including a diving stop of an Aaron Dennis blast in the 78th minute.

Buckle was critical of the Arizona players’ conduct. He thought they were too quick to hit the ground looking for a foul or to stall to catch their breath. There even was a brief second-half physical altercation between an Arizona United trainer and Sacramento’s Ivan Mirkovic after the trainer came on to the field to check on a player. They then drew the crowd’s wrath by making a slow exit to the sideline.

“I was disappointed they broke the game up,” Buckle said. “It was a real spoiler for the fans and everybody – that pathetic going down on the floor.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

Related stories from Sacramento Bee