Republic FC expects daunting challenge against Colorado Rapids

Paul Buckle made his Republic FC coaching debut amid the fallout from Preki’s abrupt resignation last season.

Sacramento was coming off two lopsided losses during Preki’s farewell week that had fans wondering if the 2014 USL championship team was about to self-destruct.

But Republic FC stunned English Premier League side Sunderland AFC 1-0 during a friendly at Bonney Field in Buckle’s debut and the team went on to make the USL playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Seven months later, Republic FC faces more uncertainty as it begins its third season Saturday night against Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids in a friendly at Bonney Field.

Six key players, including playmaking infielders Rodrigo Lopez, have left the team, and there are a number of new, younger players.

So while Buckle would welcome an inspiring upset of the Rapids, he’s a realist.

“As much as we want to go and win the game, we’ve been training just over 10 days,” Buckle said. “We have not had an 11 vs. 11 match. We are behind an MLS team in terms of numbers, finance and training, so let’s not forget that.

“Having said all of that, we want to put a good performance on. We’ve been training hard since the first day we came back (Feb. 1), and we will try to come out and play the best we can for our fans. Hopefully, adrenaline will play its part.”

Republic FC returned Thursday after training for a week in Mexico, then practiced again Friday morning.

Colorado started training a week earlier than Sacramento and already has played two scrimmages in Southern California, including a 2-0 win Monday over Orange County Blues FC, a USL rival of Republic FC.

But Republic FC midfielder Ivan Mirkovic, one of six players back from the 2014 opening day roster, thinks Republic FC will be fine, despite possibly some heavy legs from intense training.

“We’re excited,” Mirkovic said. “Some of the new guys are excited because they’re playing against an MLS team and for the first time at the Bonney Field. They can’t wait to experience that atmosphere.”

Mirkovic also pointed out that Republic FC has played well in friendlies against MLS and EPL sides. In addition to beating Sunderland, Sacramento fell 1-0 on an own goal to Newcastle United FC in July and took the San Jose Earthquakes, Republic FC’s MLS affiliate, to a penalty-kick shootout before losing in a U.S. Open Cup match in June.

“We hope to get a good result against Colorado,” Mirkovic said. “We want to show this city that this team is capable of winning the league again.”

Veteran midfielder Danny Barrera said training in Mexico helped the team.

“It was beyond beneficial,” Barrera said. “Everybody was forced to get to know each other. We have so many cool personalities and kind and good people. ...We definitely came together.”

Among those expected to debut for Republic FC are defenders Chris Christian and Mike da Fonte and goalkeeper Evan Newton, who came from other USL teams, and rookie midfielder Matt LaGrassa, a former Cal Poly and Pleasant Grove High School standout.

One of Sacramento’s most intriguing players is striker Harry Williams, 20, who Buckle brought over from his native England. Williams hails from the Cheltenham Town FC youth system, and Buckle’s last coaching job in England was with Cheltenham Town.

“Harry’s somebody that I believe will score goals at the USL level and is somebody we have brought in to develop,” Buckle said. “He’s exciting.”

Republic FC U-18 Academy defender Nabilai Kibunguchy might also see playing time after performing well in Friday’s workouts. He’s a senior at Cosumnes Oaks High School and has signed a letter of intent with UC Davis.

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP