Evan Newton will get a chance to say hello to some old friends Saturday night when Republic FC hosts the San Jose Earthquakes in a friendly at Bonney Field.
Sacramento’s new goalkeeper played for the Earthquakes in 2012 and 2013 after spending the 2011 season with the Houston Dynamo, the Major League Soccer team that drafted him. But he didn’t appear in an MLS match those three seasons.
1.22 Evan Newton’s goals-against average in 27 USL matches last season
It was a big change from his college days at Old Dominion, where he set school records for saves (254) and shutouts (36) while leading his team to three NCAA tournaments.
So the Virginia Beach, Va., native moved to the minor-league USL. He played with Arizona United SC in 2014 and OKC Energy FC last season before signing in the offseason with Sacramento to replace Patrick McLain, now with the Chicago Fire.
Newton doesn’t regret dropping to the USL.
“Sometimes you’ve got to go backward to go forward again,” Newton said. “You can be in MLS and never play. It’s kind of like being a backup quarterback in the NFL. Who really knows what you can do if you’re always on the bench?”
Newton, 27, has proven himself in the USL, making 200 saves in 55 matches. Last season, he had 10 shutouts and 89 saves in 27 USL matches, and his 1.22 goals-against average was third among goalies with 200 or more minutes. He was one of three nominees for USL Goalkeeper of the Year after helping Energy FC tie Orange County Blues FC for first place in the Western Conference. Brandon Miller, now with Orange County, won the award after helping the Rochester Rhinos win the USL championship.
But when Sacramento came courting, he couldn’t resist.
“I loved my time in Oklahoma,” Newton said. “But with the positive direction Sacramento is going – its push to MLS – and the way they came after me, I just saw it as a place where I could get better, gain experience and to continue to grow.”
While Republic FC coach Paul Buckle was pleased to land a proven goalkeeper, Newton hasn’t won the starting job.
Buckle was so pleased with how veteran Dominik Jakubek performed late last season after McLain was sidelined by a shoulder injury that he planned to start him in Saturday’s season-opening friendly against the Colorado Rapids at Bonney Field.
But Jakubek was out because of a neck injury, and Newton stepped in and played well. He made a diving save on Marc Burch’s free kick early in the second half, but had little chance when AJ Cochran headed in another free kick by Burch on the back post in the 86th minute in the Rapids’ 1-0 win.
“I think Evan Newton took his opportunity, and I think he did very well with it,” Buckle said. “His concentration levels were excellent. He kicked very well. We went back to him a lot because of their high press. Evan Newton is an experienced goalkeeper, and I think he showed all that experience on Saturday.”
Sometimes you’ve got to go backward to go forward again. You can be in MLS and never play.
New Republic FC goaltender Evan Newton
Although he’s been working with Jakubek and trialist Alex Mangels from Cal for only a few weeks, Newton said the relationship among them has been good.
“I call him coach,” Newton said of Jakubek, 36, one of six original members still with Republic FC. “Like (Tuesday), he was out here coaching us even though he’s hurt. But that’s the great thing about Dom. He’s from here, and he’s all about the team. He just wants to win.”
Whether on the field or on the bench Saturday against San Jose, Newton sees the match as a chance for the team to build on its goal of winning another USL championship. Republic FC won the title in its inaugural season in 2014.
“It will be good to see some of my buddies from that team,” Newton said of the Earthquakes. “But it’s just another opportunity for us to sharpen up and get better as a team. Hopefully, we come out and give the fans something fun to watch and something good to cheer about.”