Soccer

Bright outlook for Republic FC on first day of practice

Octavio Guzman, who was part of last year’s Republic FC USL pro champions, dribbles the ball at the team’s first practice at Cosumnes River College Monday.
Octavio Guzman, who was part of last year’s Republic FC USL pro champions, dribbles the ball at the team’s first practice at Cosumnes River College Monday. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Dominik Jakubek arrived in the morning gray to an empty field two hours before the start of Republic FC’s first official practice of the 2015 season on Monday at Cosumnes River College.

By the time the 90-minute practice concluded, the sun shone as brightly as the 35-year-old goalkeeper’s smile.

“I’m going to make a habit of getting here early in the morning,” Jakubek said. “I’m really excited about this season.”

Thirty players, including 14 from last year’s inaugural history-making minor-league soccer team, went through an assortment of quick-moving drills and small-sided games under the watchful eyes of coach Preki, new assistant head coach Adam Smith and technical director Graham Smith.

The first week of training begins amid recent news that the Kings and 49ers are investing in the Major League Soccer hopeful that shattered USL Pro attendance records last season en route to winning the league championship.

Republic FC also will play in a 24-team league that includes 13 new franchises.

Most of the team is back, including USL Pro Defensive Player of the Year Nemanja Vukovic and All-USL Pro first-team midfielder Rodrigo Lopez.

“I’m really happy we have a lot of the guys back,” Lopez said. “Last year, it was a good locker room. Everyone was so close, so happy to be around each other. We hung out a lot in the offseason, and we stayed in contact.”

Among those working out were forwards Justin Braun, Republic FC’s 2014 captain whose pending contract still must be approved by USL Pro, and forward Chad Bartlome, whose contract option was not picked up at the end of last season but who is one of 15 trialists bidding for the half-dozen remaining roster spots. Among the new faces was former Chivas USA goalkeeper Patrick McLain, who Graham Smith says has agreed to a contract that still needs league approval.

The only signed player not in camp was returning midfielder Gilberto, on loan to a team in Brazil until early May.

Preki, in a lighthearted mood, was pleased with the first practice.

“It was good today,” said the returning USL Pro Coach of the Year. “I think because we have a core group from last season back, everyone understands what it takes. Hopefully, the new guys pick things up fast. We want to make it as difficult as possible, that way if you win a way in, then you’ve earned a spot and are in a good place.”

Lopez agreed the vibe was good.

“Everyone came in fitter than last year,” Lopez said. “This just shows how hungry these guys are, and how driven they are to get another title.”

Among the hopefuls trying out is Irish defender Derek Foran, a seven-year pro and former teammate of Republic FC forward Thomas Stewart with the Shamrock Rovers from Dublin, Ireland. He survived the cut from an invitational tryout last week but is still battling for a contract this week.

“Practice today was intense, but in a good way,” Foran said. “It’s football. It’s a pressure game. But I’m 25. I’ve played in a lot of pressure games. Hopefully I’ll impress the coaches. I’d love to be part of Republic FC. The players are quality, and Preki is a fantastic manager.”

Among other trialists are former Seattle Sounders midfielder Philip Lund, ex-Pittsburgh River Hounds and Rochester Rhinos midfielder Alfonso Motagalvan and Australian midfelder Richie Cardozo.

Before becoming a star in Sacramento, Lopez played with seven other pro teams, including with Preki at Chivas USA. So Lopez knows the pressure cooker of being a trialist.

“In that position, you have to be mentally stronger than anyone on the field,” Lopez said. “Preki has these guys here for a reason. But we’re all fighting for spots, even me, because any day of the week Preki can say you are gone.”

The competitive level of USL Pro is expected to ramp up with seven new MLS-affiliated teams joining Republic FC, including four in the Western Conference.

“We know everyone is going to want to get us,” Jakubek said. “It’s going to be tough and more intense in trying to repeat, but that’s why we are coming in stronger, sharper and fitter.”

Editor’s note: This story has updated to clarify the contract status of Justin Braun and Patrick McLain.

Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

2015 REPUBLIC FC SCHEDULE

Date

Opponent

Time

Saturday, Feb. 7

at Fresno Fuego

7 p.m.*

Monday, Feb. 9

at Ventura County Fusion

7 p.m.*

Saturday, Feb. 21

vs. San Jose Earthquakes

5 p.m.*

Saturday, March 21

at Seattle Sounders FC 2

7:30 p.m.

Saturday, March 28

vs. LA Galaxy II

7 p.m.

Thursday, April 2

at Portland Timbers FC 2

7 p.m.

Sunday, April 12

at LA Galaxy II

7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 15

vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2

7:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 18

vs. Portland Timbers FC 2

7:30 p.m.

Friday, April 24

vs. Orange County Blues FC

7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, April 29

at Real Monarchs SLC

6 p.m.

Saturday, May 9

vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2

7:30 p.m.

Sunday, May 17

at LA Galaxy II

5 p.m.

Saturday, May 23

at OKC Energy FC

5 p.m.

Saturday, May 30

vs. Real Monarchs SLC

7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 6

vs. Austin Aztex

8 p.m.

Saturday, June 13

at Arizona United SC

7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 20

vs. OKC Energy FC

8 p.m.

Thursday, June 25

at Tulsa Roughnecks

5:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 27

at Austin Aztex

6 p.m.

Wednesday, July 1

at Real Monarchs SLC

6 p.m.

Saturday, July 11

vs. LA Galaxy II

8 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 1

vs. Seattle Sounders FC 2

8 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 8

vs. Colo. Spr. Switchbacks FC

8 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 14

at Colo. Spr. Switchbacks FC

6 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 22

vs. Real Monarchs SLC

8 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 29

vs. Tulsa Roughnecks FC

8 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 6

at Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2

3 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 12

at Portland Timbers FC 2

7 p.m.

Wednesday, Sept. 16

at Orange County Blues FC

4:30 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 19

vs. Arizona United SC

7:30 p.m.

*Friendly

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