Soccer

Matt LaGrassa returns home to play for Republic FC

New Republic FC player Matt LaGrassa, a rookier midfielder is from Pleasant Grove High School, February 3, 2016.
New Republic FC player Matt LaGrassa, a rookier midfielder is from Pleasant Grove High School, February 3, 2016. lsterling@sacbee.com

For someone who lived on his own for the past five years, Matt LaGrassa admits life is a little different being back home in Elk Grove.

LaGrassa isn’t sure if living with his parents, Bob and Teri, is a short- or long-term arrangement. But so far, so good – even if he does have to do the dishes.

But LaGrassa isn’t back home because he lost his job and can’t pay the rent. He’s back home after the hometown Republic FC signed the former Pleasant Grove High and Cal Poly standout for the 2016 season.

“I’m excited to start my professional career here,” said LaGrassa, a versatile midfielder and proven goal scorer. “It’s such an awesome opportunity to play in Sacramento, where I was born and raised, and to do it with a really well-run organization. I’m in one of the best situations in the entire country.”

LaGrassa, 23, will be one of the newcomers trying to fill the large void in the midfield created by the departure of Republic FC star Rodrigo Lopez, who now plays for Celaya FC in the Ascenso MX in Mexico.

LaGrassa admires Lopez and played against him and Republic FC two years ago in a U.S. Open Cup match at Cosumnes River College.

“He’s excellent, but my game isn’t similar to RoRo’s,” LaGrassa said. “I think the coaches are trying to build a style of play that fits their players, so the style we play this season may slightly shift from what it’s been in the past.”

Like Lopez and several other Republic FC players, LaGrassa is an alumnus of the Ventura County Fusion from the Premier Development League.

Graham Smith, Republic FC’s director of football, founded and coached the Fusion. Smith has been aware of LaGrassa’s talents for some time, and Sacramento coach Paul Buckle saw him play this past season at Cal Poly, where he was a three-time All-Big West Conference selection (twice first team).

“He’s a player who we feel can come in and play right away,” Buckle said. “And he’s come in and hit the ground running. Watching him in training, he doesn’t look out of place, so we’re expecting some big things from him.”

Three-year Republic FC forward Thomas Stewart has been impressed with LaGrassa during the team’s early training sessions.

“Seeing his enthusiaism is fun to watch,” Stewart said. “Hopefully, he has a good season ahead of him, because there’s always excitement among the fans for the local lad.”

The 6-foot LaGrassa has had an impact at every level in which he has played, starting at Pleasant Grove where he had 26 goals and 10 assists as a senior in 2010.

At Cal Poly last season, LaGrassa helped the 11-5-5 Mustangs qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven seasons. His 18 career goals rank fourth since Cal Poly joined Division I in 1994.

LaGrassa, who earned a degree in kinesiology, also has played against a number of high-level teams during his collegiate and PDL days with Ventura County and the Des Moines Menace.

He had a goal in Ventura County’s 2-1 upset of the Los Angeles Galaxy II in last year’s U.S. Open Cup, and he has played in exhibitions against the Canadian men’s national team, Glasgow Rangers, Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes.

Now it’s onto the USL, where LaGrassa hopes to make his professional debut with Republic FC in friendlies against the Rapids on Feb. 13 and Earthquakes on Feb. 20 at Bonney Field. When he steps onto the turf at Cal Expo, it’ll be the first Republic FC match LaGrassa has attended.

“I haven’t been able to make a game,” LaGrassa said. “During the summer, I stayed with my PDL teams or trained in Costa Rica. The few times I was at home and looked at catching a game, (Republic FC) was on the road. So I’m excited. I’m eager for that experience.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

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