Soccer

Republic FC’s 2016 goal: ‘Put teams to bed’

Republic FC forward Justin Braun (17) heads the ball during the second half of a playoff game between against LA Galaxy II on Saturday in Sacramento.
Republic FC forward Justin Braun (17) heads the ball during the second half of a playoff game between against LA Galaxy II on Saturday in Sacramento. aseng@sacbee.com

Even though Republic FC fell short of repeating as USL champion, coach and technical director Paul Buckle doesn’t anticipate major offseason personnel changes.

“We’re not a million miles away,” Buckle said. “We’ve got a lot of ingredients already. We’re brilliant to watch. We just need to be more consistent with that finishing touch. We need to put teams to bed.”

Primary on the wish list for Buckle and Republic FC director of football Graham Smith is signing an impact striker.

We’ve got to have a striker who can score in double figures.

Paul Buckle, Republic FC coach and technical director

“It was obvious in our last three games that we lacked the finish,” Buckle said of the team’s failure to score against Arizona United SC and Orange County Blues FC in the regular season and Los Angeles Galaxy II in Saturday’s 1-0 playoff loss. “We’ve got to have a striker who can score in double figures.”

Major League Soccer veteran and team captain Justin Braun led Republic FC’s six strikers in scoring with eight goals, though five came in a four-match span near the end of the season.

Forward Thomas Stewart was Republic FC’s USL scoring leader in 2014 with 13 goals but had just three this season. He was injured early in the season, fell out of favor under Preki before being returned to the starting lineup by Buckle. He had three goals in Buckle’s first three USL matches before going scoreless in the last seven.

Braun and Stewart – along with starters Emrah Klimenta, Nemanja Vukovic and Ivan Mirkovic – are among nine players signed through 2016.

Republic FC has 2016 contract options for six players, including No. 1 goalkeeper Patrick McLain and midfielders Octavio Guzman and Gilberto, both starters sidelined by knee injuries. Eight players had their contracts expire at the end of the season, including star Rodrigo Lopez and starters Mickey Daly, James Kiffe and Danny Barrera.

Smith said an announcement of whom they plan to retain could come early next week.

Buckle said finding an impact scorer will be even more essential if Lopez declines Republic FC’s contract offer. The veteran midfielder, who led the team in scoring in its first two seasons with 26 goals and 19 assists, may have interest from higher-level clubs.

“If we lose RoRo, we have to replace those goals,” Buckle said.

Republic FC will hold four open tryouts, starting Oct. 31 to Nov. 1, to potentially find the next Klimenta or Max Alvarez – players signed after excelling in those events. But Buckle and Smith will attend a number of matches, practices and combines during the offseason in search of additional prospects.

“We’ll be making trips overseas, scouting America and going to Mexico so we can bring the best talent to Sacramento,” Smith said. Added Buckle, “It’s our job to find the players who will enhance our chances of starting next season off with a bang.”

Smith also said that because of Republic FC’s success, fan support and vigorous push to reach MLS, players competing at higher levels have expressed an interest in the team.

We have a lot of very talented players, some who even are in MLS, who want to come to Sacramento and play for Republic FC. But we’re not going to break the bank.

Graham Smith, Republic FC director of football

“We have a lot of very talented players, some who even are in MLS, who want to come to Sacramento and play for Republic FC,” Smith said. “But we’re not going to break the bank. We have a budget.”

Buckle admitted the sudden end to the season was a huge disappointment, especially after the team seemed to be gaining momentum with a late-season, three-match winning streak that included a 3-0 win at Portland Timbers FC 2 on Sept. 12.

“It really looked like we were going to do something special after we beat Portland,” Buckle said. “But I’m proud of the league record (4-1-4). We were seventh in the (standings, one spot from playoff qualification) when I came in, (and) we made the playoffs and had our chances in a knockout situation.”

Buckle, English born and bred, said his most memorable Republic FC match was his July 14 debut against Sunderland AFC. Sacramento beat the English Premier League side 1-0 in the friendly at Bonney Field. It was the club’s first win against a higher-level team. Another highlight was the news last weekend that he and his wife, Rebecca Lowe, are expecting a son.

“It’s been a wonderful four months,” Buckle said.

Although Smith is a huge Preki fan, he said the team was struggling before Buckle came aboard.

“Paul came in and righted the ship,” Smith said. “It was tough to have to come in and replace someone of the magnitude of Preki. But Paul did it, and I’m convinced we have the right man for the long haul.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

Players’ futures

Republic FC could announce re-signings and option decisions by early next week. Here is the players’ contract status:

  • Signed through 2016, with club option for 2017: Max Alvarez, midfielder; Derek Foran, defender; Dominik Jakubek, goalkeeper; Emrah Klimenta, defender; Ivan Mirkovic, midfielder; Thomas Stewart, forward; Nemanja Vukovic, defender.
  • 2016, with no club option: Justin Braun, forward; Alfonzo Motagalvan, midfielder.
  • 2015, with club option for 2016: Matthias Bonvehi, defender; Adnan Gabeljic, forward; Gilberto, midfielder; Octavio Guzman, midfielder; Patrick McLain, goalkeeper; Joaquin Rivas, midfielder.
  • 2015, with no club option: Danny Barrera, midfielder; Agustin Cazarez, midfielder; Mickey Daly, defender; Gabe Gissie, forward; Cameron Iwasa, forward; Kaleemullah, forward; James Kiffe, defender; Rodrigo Lopez, midfielder.
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