Soccer

Republic FC enters USL play as mystery team

Republic FC looking to build a stellar team for 2016

A younger, less experienced Sacramento Republic FC begins the 2016 USL season looking to return to the championship form of its inaugural year two seasons ago. The team had a sizable offseason makeover that included the departure of five starters,
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A younger, less experienced Sacramento Republic FC begins the 2016 USL season looking to return to the championship form of its inaugural year two seasons ago. The team had a sizable offseason makeover that included the departure of five starters,

On the eve of its USL opener Friday night at the Seattle Sounders 2, Republic FC seems almost back to where it was when it debuted in 2014 – a bit of a mystery.

The team had a sizable offseason makeover that included the departure of five starters, including team leaders Justin Braun and Rodrigo Lopez, who accounted for 18 USL goals combined last season.

Coach Paul Buckle, hired midway through last season, will put together his first Republic FC opening day lineup from a roster that is a lot younger and less experienced than the 2014 team that won the USL championship or the 2015 squad that lost in the first round of the playoffs.

The division his team competes in is better than last season, but despite challenges from other teams, Sacramento Republic FC has the talent and opportunity to have an impact on the USL Western Conference. Assessing Republic FC's lineup, coach Pau

This will be Republic FC’s third season in a maturing league that continues to grow dramatically. The USL, which added six franchises to increase to 29 for 2016, has more than doubled in size since 2013.

“The standards of the USL are only getting higher,” Republic FC director of football Graham Smith said. “It’s all been good for the league, good for the fans. But it’s going to be challenging for us.”

Last season’s wild Western Conference race wasn’t decided until Sacramento’s final game against the Orange County Blues FC.

Republic FC and the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC finished with 46 points, one fewer than the first-place Blues and second place OKC Energy FC. The LA Galaxy II, which finished fifth with 45 points, beat Sacramento 1-0 in the opening round of the playoffs and came within stoppage time of winning the USL title before losing to the Rochester Rhinos 2-1 in extra time in the finals.

Republic FC could face an even more difficult challenge this season, with the Western Conference expanding to 15 with three new teams, including the Swope Park Rangers. The Sporting Kansas City’s affiliate already has impressed in the preseason, beating the Colorado Rapids and tying the Columbus Crew, both Major League Soccer teams.

“The Blues and the Switchbacks, you must not rule them out,” Buckle said. “But obviously the MLS 2 (affiliated) teams, they’ve got a lot of quality; every player wants to be playing in an MLS environment.”

Republic FC opens the season Friday against the Seattle Sounders 2, which won a Western Conference-leading 11 home games last year but had only seven players under contract as of Thursday. The Sounders may draw heavily from their MLS side for help.

“It’s always difficult to make judgments this early in the season,” Buckle said. “I think any league takes eight or 10 games for teams to find their feet and for the players to get up and running properly. But of course we’re confident in the lads we’ve got here. We’ve got a fine attitude towards training. We’ve had a good preseason, where I feel the players are up to speed and the very best we can be.”

Republic FC returns 13 players from last season, including defenders Emrah Klimenta and James Kiffe and midfielder Ivan Mirkovic, each of whom played in at least 24 of 28 league matches.

Smith said midfielder Danny Barrera, who joined the team midway through last season, has the potential to step into the playmaker role vacated by Lopez. Forward Thomas Stewart and midfielder Max Alvarez, in and out of the lineup last season, look to return to their 2014 form when Stewart had 13 goals and Alvarez eight assists. Buckle hopes they can boost goal production for a team that was shut out in its final three games last season.

Midfielder Octavio Guzman, who started 17 of 18 USL matches before missing the last 10 because of a knee injury, is rounding back into form, while midfielder Joaquin Rivas, midfielder/defender Agustin Cazarez, defenders Alfonso Motagalvan and Derek Foran, forward Cameron Iwasa and goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek are able veterans familiar with Buckle’s system.

The signing of former San Jose Earthquakes midfielder JJ Koval is a huge coup, and he is expected to be an impact player for Sacramento. The former Stanford star, who played in 39 MLS matches with San Jose before his release in late February, had brief loan spells with Republic FC in 2014 and 2015.

Mirkovic said flying under the radar isn’t a bad thing for a team with so many young players after being the defending champion last year.

“I would prefer that we be thought of as an underdog,” Mirkovic said. “It’s better not having that pressure on our back.”

But Klimenta said Republic FC’s reputation and its USL attendance-busting crowds at Bonney Field will still make it the USL team everyone wants to beat.

“I don’t know if we’re the underdogs, the mystery team or the favorites,” Klimenta said. “But I believe every team that comes into Bonney Field is gunning for us because they want to shut our fans up and shut us down.

“While we do have new faces, I think people will be surprised how together we have become. We’re all in for the same purpose, which is to win another championship.”

Adam Jahn, Tommy Thompson, former Sacramento high school soccer stars now playing for the San Jose Earthquakes, proclaim their satisfaction at being back home in the capital while preparing to play for Republic FC in its match on Friday, March 25,

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

Republic FC 2016 schedule

Date

Opponent

Time

March 25

at Seattle Sounders FC 2

7:30 p.m.

April 2

vs. Arizona United SC

7:30 p.m.

April 10

at Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2

3 p.m.

April 17

at Portland Timbers 2

2 p.m.

April 23

vs. Saint Louis FC

7:30 p.m.

April 30

vs. Orange County Blues FC

7:30 p.m.

May 7

at LA Galaxy II

7:30 p.m.

May 14

vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2

7:30 p.m.

May 28

vs. Swope Park Rangers

7:30 p.m.

June 4

vs. LA Galaxy II

8 p.m.

June 8

vs. Real Monarchs SLC

8 p.m.

June 11

at Real Monarchs SLC in Reno

7:30 p.m.

June 18

vs. Rio Grande Valley FC Toros

8 p.m.

June 25

at Arizona United SC

7:30 p.m.

July 2

vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2

8 p.m.

July 6

vs. Real Monarchs SLC

8 p.m.

July 10

at Orange County Blues FC

4 p.m.

July 16

at Colorado Springs Switchbacks

6 p.m.

Jul 24

at Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2

2 p.m.

July 30

at Rio Grande Valley FC Toros

5:30 p.m.

Aug. 2

at Oklahoma City Energy FC

5:30 p.m.

Aug. 6

vs. San Antonio FC

8 p.m.

Aug. 13

at Saint Louis FC

5:30 p.m.

Aug. 20

vs. Portland Timbers 2

8 p.m.

Aug. 24

at Orange County Blues FC

7:30 p.m.

Aug. 27

vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2

8 p.m.

Sept. 3

vs. Orange County Blues FC

7:30 p.m.

Sept. 10

at LA Galaxy II

7:30 p.m.

Sept. 17

vs. LA Galaxy II

7:30 p.m.

Sept. 24

at Tulsa Roughnecks FC

5:30 p.m.

Republic FC roster

No.

Name

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Age

Birthplace

1

Dominik Jakubek

G

6-1

195

36

USA

2

Derek Foran

D

6-1

165

26

Ireland

3

Mike da Fonte

D

6-0

170

24

USA

4

Alfonso Motagalvan

D

5-10

170

29

USA

5

Danny Barrera

M

5-7

150

26

Colombia

6

Agustin Cazarez

M/D

5-7

145

26

USA

7

Joaquin Rivas

M/F

5-11

172

23

El Salvador

8

Chris Christian

D

6-1

180

26

USA

9

Harry Williams

F

6-0

160

20

England

10

Thomas Stewart

F

5-11

179

29

Northern Ireland

11

Max Alvarez

M

5-10

160

24

USA

12

Evan Newton

G

6-2

190

27

USA

13

Adam Jahn*

F

6-3

185

25

USA

14

Cameron Iwasa

F

5-10

180

22

USA

15

Carlos Rodriguez

D

6-3

185

19

Mexico

16

Matt LaGrassa

M

6-0

175

23

USA

17

Octavio Guzman

M

5-10

175

25

Mexico

18

Ivan Mirkovic

M

5-6

150

28

Serbia

19

Mackenzie Pridham

F

6-0

180

25

Canada

20

James Kiffe

D

5-11

180

27

USA

21

Tommy Thompson*

M

5-7

145

20

USA

22

Chase Minter

M

5-9

150

23

USA

23

Emrah Klimenta

D

6-1

180

25

Montenegro

24

JJ Koval

M

6-1

183

23

USA

42

Adnan Gabeljic

F

6-3

197

23

Croatia

*On loan from San Jose

      
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