Soccer

Chris Christian hopes coaster ride has stopped in Sacramento

Republic FC's Chris Christian offers shoutout to Villanova

New Republic FC defender Chris Christian, who helped the Sacramento team win its first two USL games, offers a shoutout to his alma mater Villanova for winning the NCAA Men's Division I National Basketball Championship.
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New Republic FC defender Chris Christian, who helped the Sacramento team win its first two USL games, offers a shoutout to his alma mater Villanova for winning the NCAA Men's Division I National Basketball Championship.

You might say Republic FC’s Chris Christian is on a nice run.

After bouncing around Europe, Africa and the United States in search of soccer stability, the unsung 27-year-old defender appears to have found a home in Sacramento.

He earned a starting spot in February, made the first 2016 USL Team of the Week on March 29 and, on Monday, watched in glee as Villanova, his alma mater, shocked top-seeded North Carolina 77-74 to win the NCAA men’s championship on Kris Jenkins’ three-point buzzer beater.

“I’ve never seen a finish like that in a basketball game before, so that was amazing to watch,” Christian said. “That shot left me stunned. A lot of people didn’t think that they would ever win a national championship again, but they did.”

I’ve never seen a finish like that in a basketball game before, so that was amazing to watch. That shot left me stunned. A lot of people didn’t think that they would ever win a national championship again, but they did.

Republic FC defender Chris Christian on his alma mater, Villanova, beating North Carolina on Kris Jenkins’ three-point buzzer beater

The Philadelphia-area university won its first national title in 1985 as a much bigger underdog, stunning No. 1 Georgetown 66-64.

Christian understands long shots. Because of surgeries on his right, then left ACL during his last two years at Villanova, he was pretty much forgotten as a pro prospect in the United States.

After rehabbing for more than a year, Christian signed with a third-division team in Poland before hamstring and meniscus injuries forced him to return home. The next year, he trained for four months with Liberty Professionals FC in Ghana, his ancestral home, but was unable to land a contract with a team in that country’s top soccer league.

“Poland was an amazing culture shock but a good experience,” said Christian, who was born in New York City and grew up in West Orange, N.J. “I arrived in the winter, and it literally snowed every day for three weeks. Ghana was good because I got to spend time with relatives there, especially my grandmother before she passed away.”

Christian returned to the United States and signed with the Atlanta Silverbacks last season, but he hardly played for the North American Soccer League team. Late in the season, the Silverbacks loaned him to the USL Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, and his first two games were against Republic FC, a 1-0 victory in Sacramento and a 3-3 draw six days later in Colorado.

That’s when Christian caught the eye of Republic FC coach Paul Buckle, who didn’t know at the time he would have to replace his center backs, Mickey Daly and Nemanja Vukovic, who departed during the offseason for other teams.

“I think he did everything in those games … in terms of his organization, leadership skills and his positional sense,” Buckle said. “He’s a real solid center back and an unselfish man who is willing to help others. He adds calm to us and also is very good in the air.”

James Kiffe, who plays outside left defender beside Christian, said he has seen a seamless transition from Vukovic, the 2014 USL Defensive Player of the Year, to Christian.

“He brings a lot,” Kiffe said. “He’s athletic. He has experience. He is calm on the ball. All those kind of things when you are comparing him with Nemanja from last year. ... Defensively, he’s covered for me a couple of times when I’ve had balls played over my head. There are times when you find yourself in the wrong spot and you need the center back to bail you out. So it’s great to have that.”

I’m just thankful for the whole process, because it’s been a roller coaster. But I’ve stuck with it and made it through some tough times, so I’m thankful for where I am now. Sacramento is a great organization, and the atmosphere at Bonney Field is amazing.

Christian, who considered retirement before his loan to Colorado Springs and signing by Republic FC

Before the loan to Colorado Springs and signing by Sacramento, Christian considered retirement a few times.

“I’m just thankful for the whole process, because it’s been a roller coaster,” Christian said. “But I’ve stuck with it and made it through some tough times, so I’m thankful for where I am now. Sacramento is a great organization, and the atmosphere at Bonney Field is amazing.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

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