Republic FC held in check again, loses 1-0 to Saint Louis FC

Mike Ambersley scored in the 59th minute on a deflection and even a shakeup in the starting lineup by coach Paul Buckle wasn’t enough for Republic FC to escape its scoring doldrums as it fell 1-0 against Saint Louis FC Saturday night in front of the 32nd consecutive USL home sellout (11,569) at Bonney Field.

The winning goal came on a classic counterattack after Saint Louis (2-2-2, 8 points) was able to clear a Republic FC (2-2-1, 7 points) corner kick. Irvin Herrera took the clearance near midfield and delivered a through ball to a sprinting Ambersley. He collected the ball on the right side and his cross deflected off Republic FC defender James Kiffe and slide past goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek.

“If (Kiffe) doesn’t touch it, it goes into Dominik’s hands,” Buckle said. “It’s a massive, massive bit of luck for them.”

Buckle gave 20-year-old Harry Williams and Mackenzie Pridham their first starts at forward and while they brought energy and were involved in several threatening efforts, they were unable to find the net.

It was third consecutive match in which Republic FC was shut out after starting the USL season with two 1-0 victories.

Republic FC outshot Saint Louis 18 to 6 and had four shots on goal. Sacramento had 11 corner kicks to Saint Louis’ one. But Buckle said there are no moral victories, only results.

“A team like we have, where we have so much of the ball and we create so many chances and we do get in positive positions, somebody has to step forward,” Buckle said. “Obviously it’s the strikers. Strikers are paid to score goals. But it’s all over the field. I expect goals from the midfield. I expect goals from wide areas and certainly from corners.”

Republic FC came out firing in the first half and had several close calls near the goal that kept former Sacramento goalkeeper Patrick McLain on his toes. He finished with four saves and got plenty of help, especially from defender AJ Cochran, a former Houston Dynamo player.

McLain was loaned to Saint Louis by the Chicago Fire, its Major League Soccer affiliate, on Friday.

Republic FC’s JJ Koval, lurking inside the box near the back post, couldn’t connect on a cross in the fourth minute.

In the 13th minute, Cameron Iwasa dribbled toward the top of the box, found an opening but his blast went wide left. Then in the 25th minute, Danny Barrera’s free kick from above the box just went wide right.

Republic FC’s frustration continued in the second half after Ambersley’s goal. It came up short on several corner kicks, crosses and sprints into the box.

Alfonso Motagalvan’s blast from the top of box just went over the frame in the 65th minute. Max Alvarez’ shot from about the same area in the 75th minute just missed wide right. Williams put a shot right at McLain in the 86th minute.

“We looked very dangerous in the first half,” Buckle said. “In the second half it was just case of us trying to unlock the door … . It’s very frustrating.”

It was the first meeting between Republic FC and Saint Louis, a new member of the Western Conference. Last season Saint Louis played in the Eastern Conference.

The clubs are viewed as most likely to be in line for two of the four MLS expansion slots expected to be announced within the next year.

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP