Colorado Rapids score late to defeat Republic FC in opening friendly

Republic FC may have allayed any fears of a huge drop in performance this season in Saturday night’s season-opening friendly against the Colorado Rapids at Bonney Field.

Though Sacramento lost 1-0 on AJ Cochran’s 86th-minute goal, Republic FC held its own against the Major League Soccer side in front of an announced crowd of 10,240.

Sacramento has endured the departure of five starters and a handful of other players from last year’s USL playoff team.

Yet even with a number of newcomers to the lineup and a heavy week of training in Mexico, Republic FC had its moments and a handful of chances against an MLS team that already had played two exhibitions.

“Given everything – so many new combinations on the pitch – I couldn’t have asked for a lot more,” said Republic FC coach Paul Buckle. “Overall, everyone who has come into the club has done well.”

His one disappointment is that the game didn’t end in a scoreless draw.

Cochran found a slight opening in Republic FC’s defense to score on a back-post diving header from a bending free kick by Marc Burch.

“When we got to the 86th minute, we felt a draw was credible for us,” Buckle said. “So the boys will be a little disappointed with the free kick. I thought it was a soft free kick. We’ve got to do better from the set ball.”

Central defenders Mike da Fonte and Chris Christian and goalkeeper Evan Newton looked solid in their debuts for Republic FC. All three played for other USL teams last season.

Christian and da Fonte were brought in to replace departed standouts Mickey Daly and Nemanja Vukovic. Newton replaced Patrick McLain, now with the Chicago Fire of MLS.

Christian and da Fonte helped keep the Rapids’ biggest scoring threat, forward Kevin Doyle, in check.

The Irish international and former English Premier League player had just two shots in his 45-minute stint after scoring four goals in two exhibitions for the Rapids.

“Doyle’s a handful,” Buckle said. “He’s bright. He has played at the top level, and we kept him quiet.”

The Rapids had 12 shots, three on goal, and Republic FC took six shots, none on frame.

New Republic FC forward Mackenzie Pridham, a former Cal Poly and Vancouver Whitecaps 2 player who came on in the second half, created the biggest buzz of the night among the crowd when his shot found the net in the 73rd minute. But he was ruled offside.

Promising 20-year-old English recruit Harry Williams started at striker, paired with veteran Tommy Stewart. Buckle said they played solidly, though they didn’t create anything dangerous. Sacramento-bred midfielder Matt LaGrassa saw his first action for Republic FC in the second half.

Veteran midfielder Max Alvarez entered in the second half and had a big impact. He fought off two defenders to cross a ball that set up a near-miss blast by Danny Barrera. Alvarez also just missed a shot in the 83rd minute.

“I think (everyone) did well,” said Republic midfielder Ivan Mirkovic, who wore the captain’s band. “For the effort defensively we put in, we deserved a draw. Small mistakes. We have to learn how to close games if we want to be a winning team.”

Capacity increased – Republic FC unveiled nearly 500 seats on the field level that are padded and tiered and feature cup holders. They replace some of the existing field seats, though Sacramento now can seat more than 11,500.

That will give Sacramento a good shot at beating its USL attendance record of 158,616 set last season.

Republic FC started USL play last year with a seating capacity of 10,906. It eventually was upped to 11,442.

Sacramento has sold out 26 consecutive USL home matches.

A new six-foot-high stage also has been added in the VIP section behind the net. It was installed to allow Bonney Field to host concerts.

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

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