USL Pro champion Republic FC will return to Hughes Stadium on Feb. 28 to play the 2013 North American Soccer League champion New York Cosmos in a friendly.
Last year, Republic FC opened its home season at the Sacramento City College stadium and garnered national attention in drawing announced sellout crowds of 20,000-plus for three of its four matches before moving to soccer-specific Bonney Field.
Republic FC will return to Hughes Stadium as Bonney Field undergoes the second phase of a 3,000-seat expansion to increase capacity to 11,000 in time for the start of the USL Pro home season in late March.
Republic FC officials see the chance to play at Hughes and against one of the most storied soccer names in North American history as another opportunity to impress Major League Soccer officials. They anticipate a sellout as Sacramento bids to become an MLS expansion team that will play in a 20,000-seat downtown stadium.
“It gives us a chance to offer an experience to our fans that is similar to what we anticipate for the downtown stadium,” said Erika Bjork, Republic FC’s vice president of marketing and communications.
Republic FC moved from Hughes Stadium because of its football-specific, narrow synthetic field that is surrounded by a track. Bonney Field has a large grass pitch with grandstands that are closer to the action because there is no track.
“It’s not an ideal surface – everyone would choose grass over turf – but at the same time it’s fine to play on,” said Republic FC forward Thomas Stewart. “But it’s great because the fans are going to be able to turn out in bigger numbers to support us. It’s going to be exciting to test ourselves against a good team from the East Coast.”
The Cosmos, founded in 1970, once drew crowds of 40,000 or more to Giants Stadium and featured world stars Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia.
They appeared in six NASL championship matches from 1972 to 1982, winning five. But the team stopped play when the NASL folded after the 1984 season.
The Cosmos were reborn in 2010 and joined the 11-team Division II NASL, which has no connection to the original league. The Cosmos won the championship in their first NASL season in 2013 and reached the semifinals last year.
The new Cosmos have some cachet, too.
Pele is their honorary president. Like Republic FC, the Cosmos hope to move to MLS eventually, though there already are two teams in the New York market and MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said there will not be a third.
In October, the Cosmos signed former Real Madrid attacker Raul, who is expected to be in the lineup against Republic FC.
“Raul is a big-time player, so our players should be excited to play in the game,” said Republic FC coach Preki. “It’s a club that has been around for a while, at least the name. It’s going to be a good match for us. They are a good team.”
The Cosmos match will come seven days after Republic FC plays the San Jose Earthquakes in a friendly at Bonney Field. The Feb. 21 match will come between two phases of seating expansion at the Cal Expo stadium.
Republic FC will return to Bonney Field for its USL Pro opener against the LA Galaxy II on March 28.
Tickets for the Cosmos match are included in 2015 season-ticket packages. Individual tickets for the 7 p.m. match will go on sale at 10 a.m. Thursday on Ticketmaster.com.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.
Upcoming home matches
Feb. 21 vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Where: Bonney Field, Cal Expo
Time: 5 p.m.
*Feb. 28 vs. New York Cosmos
Where: Hughes Sadium, Sac City College
Time: 7 p.m.
March 28 vs. L.A. Galaxy II
Where: Bonney Field, Cal Expo
Time: 7:30 p.m.
*Tickets go on sale next Thursday at 10 a.m., Ticketmaster.com