Defenders can blame boyhood hockey when they have to mix it up with Republic FC forward Mackenzie Pridham.
“In hockey, it’s a lot of shoulder and body positioning,” Pridham said. “At first I wasn’t necessarily a physical player like that – I was a fighter – but the physicality came (playing soccer) in college. My college coach brought it out in me. I realized I could cause hell for center backs and pick up so many opportunities not only for myself but for my teammates.”
The 6-foot, 180-pound Pridham gave Big West Conference defenders all kinds of headaches in becoming Cal Poly’s all-time leading Division I goal scorer with 27 during his four years in San Luis Obispo.
Now he is doing the same in his seven-week tenure with Sacramento. He has scored six goals in a combination of friendlies and exhibitions.
None was bigger than his eighth-minute tally Feb. 20 against the San Jose Earthquakes, his favorite team growing up in the Bay Area. It staked Sacramento to a 1-0 halftime lead, though Republic FC eventually fell 2-1 at Bonney Field.
“I’ve gotten into a couple of their combine camps over the years but nothing ever stuck,” said Pridham, who grew up in Saratoga and attended Bellarmine High School in San Jose. “So being able to play against them and put one away on them early felt awesome, especially in front of all our home fans at Bonney Field.”
He also scored in the 86th minute to enable Republic FC to tie the Fresno Fuego 1-1 on March 3 in Fresno. Sacramento eventually won a penalty-kick shootout in the Highway 99 Derby with the Premier Development League team.
Director of football Graham Smith and coach Paul Buckle think Pridham can be the antidote for a forward line that lacked punch last season, especially late in the year. Republic FC was shut out in its final three matches, costing it a USL Western Conference title and resulting in a quick playoff exit.
“Pridham is a breath of fresh air for many reasons,” Smith said. “He’s a physical person and has a schoolboy aura and enthusiasm for putting the ball in the net. ... It’s something we hope that rubs off.”
Buckle said Pridham refuses to give in when he’s near the goal.
“He just has an eye for goals,” Buckle said. “You can see in the goals he has in the preseason. He makes things out of nothing. That’s the biggest thing. He’s very aggressive, and I think that’s something we’ve lacked.”
Buckle also said Pridham’s performance validates the importance of Republic FC’s open tryouts during the offseason. Pridham made the team from one of those tryouts.
Pridham, 25, was pleased to get the opportunity after being cut at the end of the 2015 season by the Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, a Western Conference opponent of Republic FC.
“My agent was reaching out to teams that were looking for forwards, and Sacramento was one of them,” he said. “They’re close to where I grew up, and I knew they are building toward something very special both on and off the field. I wanted to be part of that.”
Pridham couldn’t find a groove after being drafted in the fourth round (58th overall) by Vancouver in the 2014 Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
Pridham said an injury kept him sidelined during training camp, and Vancouver decided not to sign him. He played sparingly with the North American Soccer League’s Minnesota United before being loaned to the USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds late in the 2014 season. When the Whitecaps FC formed a USL affiliate team in 2015, he returned to Vancouver and played just 410 minutes in 20 matches, starting twice.
“Vancouver was a great setup, a great organization and a great place to live,” said Pridham, who was born in Canada. “But it was a difficult place to play because there was a lot of movement of players from MLS to USL to academy guys. So we really never had a chance to jell.”
Vancouver finished 11th among the 12 teams in the conference.
Pridham said a lack of cohesion hasn’t been a problem in Sacramento, even with the departure of several of the team’s stars.
Pridham said he and fellow forwards Tommy Stewart, Harry Williams and Cameron Iwasa have bonded well with their differing playing styles.
“We all seem to be those pieces that fit the puzzle,” Pridham said. “Being able to offset each other with our various skills helps the team, helps the system.”