Republic FC makes adjustments to stay in USL West contention

James Kiffe, right, battling with LA Galaxy II defender Oscar Sorto on Saturday, April 11, 2015, scored Republic FC’s goal in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Oklahoma City.
James Kiffe, right, battling with LA Galaxy II defender Oscar Sorto on Saturday, April 11, 2015, scored Republic FC’s goal in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Oklahoma City.

Adam Jahn was a valuable addition for Republic FC this season while playing on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes.

At 6-foot-3, Jahn is the prototypical big, physical center forward, unlike any offensive player on Sacramento’s roster.

So when San Jose traded the former Jesuit High School and Stanford star to the Columbus Crew on July 30, it forced Sacramento coach Paul Buckle to re-evaluate his thin roster.

“Adam is a loss for us, that’s for sure,” Buckle said. “We were hopeful we could utilize him for the rest of the season. But that trade is good for Adam, and so we wish him well.”

Jahn’s departure left Buckle with just two healthy forwards, Cameron Iwasa and Mackenzie Pridham, and a third, Harry Williams, who is playing with a broken hand.

So instead of going with two forwards in critical road matches last Saturday and Tuesday against top Western Conference rivals, Buckle utilized just one.

The change worked well for Sacramento. Republic FC played to a scoreless draw in Edinburg, Texas, last Saturday against the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros, then defeated the OKC Energy FC 1-0 on Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

Sacramento picked up four points and moved into third place in the conference standings to cap a five-match, month-long road swing. Republic FC will play San Antonio FC on Saturday night at Bonney Field, its first home match since July 6.

Against Rio Grande Valley, Buckle played five defenders and four midfielders, yet Republic FC still created a number of dangerous scoring opportunities, especially late in the match.

Against the Energy FC at Taft Stadium, Buckle used five midfielders and four defenders, and it was defender James Kiffe who slipped into the box in the 83rd minute and scored the game winner to snap OKC’s nine-match unbeaten streak. It also marked Republic FC’s first win in Oklahoma City.

“That’s a tough place to play because the pitch is very narrow, and it suits them,” Buckle said. “But we soldiered on and were able to undo them in the end.”

Buckle credits his players’ ability to adapt to different schemes while dealing with injuries and to get the most out of the smallest roster in the 29-team USL. Republic FC has been in every league match this season.

“They understand their roles, and it’s worked for us because the opposition is never quite sure what we’re going to do,” Buckle said. “To collect four points in the last two games against top teams is a great return.”

Buckle said defender-midfielder Jeremy Hall, an MLS veteran who joined the team on loan from the NASL Tampa Bay Rowdies on July 21, has given the squad stability in the defensive midfield while allowing defenders like Kiffe to showcase their offensive skills.

Buckle also is pleased with the performance of rookies Matt LaGrassa and Carlos Rodriguez against OKC.

LaGrassa, a midfielder, spent several weeks on loan with the USL Tulsa Roughnecks FC before returning to Sacramento a more confident player, while Rodriguez, the team’s youngest player at 20, made his first USL start against the Energy FC.

“Carlos was fantastic, he completely denied his man, and Matt made some vital clearances in the 18-yard box when they were throwing everything at us late,” Buckle said.

Buckle hopes midfielder Daniel Trickett-Smith will return for Saturday’s match against San Antonio FC. A groin injury has limited the former Liverpool FC U-21 player to two USL matches since signing May 18.

“He’s had a problematic groin, but we need him back,” Buckle said. “We need his creativity. … When the game opens up and there is space, he can be lethal for us.”

But even if Trickett-Smith is ready, Buckle says Republic FC will still look to sign at least one forward as the team heads deeper into the final third of the USL season.

“We’re trying to find the right one or two, but it takes time,” he said. “We’ve stuck with the same group for quite a while, but you are always looking to strengthen the team.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP