Soccer notes: Republic makes splash with JJ Koval signing before USL opener

Republic FC signed former San Jose Earthquakes midfielder JJ Koval, providing a huge boost on the eve of its Friday USL opener.

The former Stanford star and the ninth overall pick in the 2014 Major League Soccer SuperDraft was in his third season with the ’Quakes when he was released in late February just before the start of the MLS season.

The 6-foot-1 Koval, who played briefly with Sacramento on loan in 2014 and 2015, became expendable after San Jose’s offseason midfield signings of Simon Dawkins and Alberto Quintero.

“It was a numbers game,” San Jose coach Dominic Kinnear told Center Line Soccer, a website that reports on the ’Quakes. “He took it as graciously as I’ve ever seen, which made me feel even worse. He needs space to grow, and he wasn’t going to get that here.”

He’ll get it with Republic FC, where his talent and experience will be welcomed by a team that is significantly younger after the offseason departures of several veteran players, including three with MLS experience.

“JJ’s got presence – he’s 6-foot-plus in the middle of the pitch with great technical ability,” said Republic FC coach Paul Buckle. “He’s able to give it to our attacking players very quickly.”

Koval, 23, played in 39 matches, including 16 starts, over two seasons for San Jose.

While disappointed with his release from San Jose, Koval said he was happy to land with Republic FC and at Bonney Field, where he has played for both Sacramento and the ’Quakes.

“Having played here a few times over the last couple of years, I’m familiar with the whole group,” Koval said. “It was an easy decision. It’s a top organization and a great opportunity to contribute to a great team.”

Koval, whose given name is Jeffrey, also gets to stay in California. He grew up in Westlake Village and comes from athletic stock. His grandfather Gordon Gravelle earned two Super Bowl rings as an offensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Koval’s father, Jeffrey, rowed at Loyola Marymount.

Koval had a huge impact and helped turn around Republic FC’s season last year in his only appearance with the team. He and fellow ’Quakes Tommy Thompson and Mark Sherrod joined the team for a must-win game against the Tulsa Roughnecks FC and helped lead Sacramento to a dominating 3-1 win. Koval orchestrated the midfield while Thompson had a goal and an assist and Sherrod added a goal. The victory helped propel Sacramento to a Western Conference playoff berth.

Koval will have some familiar company in Sacramento, at least for a little while.

Thompson and forward Adam Jahn, the two former area high school stars at Granite Bay and Jesuit, respectively, joined Republic FC on Tuesday for training, and their loan from San Jose to Sacramento is to be announced Thursday.

“Both are really good friends of mine, so it was fun to have them in the locker room,” Koval said. “Hopefully they’ll be here for a lot more of the year.”

His bags are packed – Buckle said he is ready to depart on a moment’s notice when his wife, Rebecca Lowe, calls to say she’s about to go into labor.

Lowe went on maternity leave after anchoring last weekend’s English Premier League broadcast for NBC Sports and is staying at the couple’s home in Connecticut to have the baby, a boy, on the East Coast. Her due date is April 11, the day after Republic FC plays at Vancouver, British Columbia.

But what happens if baby decides to arrive early, say on April 2, the day Republic FC plays its USL home opener?

“Straight as she rings me I’m going to jump on the plane and leave it with my assistants,” Buckle said with a smile. “Hopefully it’s not in the middle of the game, but family comes first. … The plan is simple. If we win while I’m away, I’ll stay away.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP