Soccer

Evan Newton’s goal is to keep Republic FC safe on home pitch

Goalkeeper Evan Newton has played more USL matches at Bonney Field as an opposing player than he has as a member of Republic FC.

But that is about to change for the former Arizona United SC and OKC Energy FC standout. Newton is expected to make his USL home debut for Sacramento on Saturday night against San Antonio FC.

The former MLS player – with the Houston Dynamo and San Jose Earthquakes – has been with Sacramento since the start of the season and has played in Bonney Field friendlies against the Colorado Rapids and the Earthquakes, and in two U.S. Open Cup matches.

But the Virginia Beach, Va., native had no idea when he signed with Republic FC during the offseason that it wouldn’t be until the final third of the regular season that he would make his first league home start.

Fellow veteran Dominik Jakubek kept the starting job after playing well at the tail-end of the 2015 season. He continued to hold down the No. 1 spot until a sub-par performance in Republic FC’s last home match, a 3-2 loss to the Real Monarchs SLC on July 6 that saw the home side squander a 2-0 second-half lead.

Newton said it was difficult watching from the bench after being a USL Goalkeeper of the Year finalist and producing 10 shutouts last season with the OKC Energy FC.

“It wasn’t a start that I had expected,” he said. “But it is what it is. I tried to keep my head down, work hard and be the best teammate I could while learning from my mistakes.”

Republic FC coach Paul Buckle appreciated Newton’s patience.

“There is disappointment in football all the time,” Buckle said. “There is big disappointment when you don’t play for a long time. That can drain you. That can de-energize you. And it’s you vs. you. You’ve got to be able to pull yourself together and get on with it, and I think he’s done that.”

Newton has started the past five matches for Republic FC, all on the road. That included a 1-0 win against his former team in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, the first time Sacramento has won at Taft Stadium. It also snapped OKC’s nine-match unbeaten streak.

He was surprised but appreciative of the warm welcome from the Energy FC fans.

“It was humbling the love that they showed me,” Newton recalled. “During the game they were hard on me, but that is part of it, and it was all fun. I still have a lot good memories there. So it was great to go back and to get the W.”

It marked the second consecutive clean sheet for Newton and Republic FC after tying the Rio Grande Valley Toros FC 0-0 last Saturday in Edinburg, Texas.

Newton is hopeful that those back-to-back shutouts are a harbinger of what’s ahead in the team’s final nine regular-season matches.

“This last road trip potentially could be a turning point, with the layovers and all the travel,” he said. “I think we came together through all the hardships to grind out a couple of good results.”

Buckle appreciates how the 28-year-old Newton and 36-year-old Jakubek go about their business, regardless of who is starting. He can count on both to set a professional, competitive tone in practice every day.

“It’s a team game with those two,” Buckle said. “They’ve been pushing each other, and it’s been a healthy competition.”

Newton’s off-the-field volunteer work reinforces how blessed he is to be a pro athlete, whether he plays or sits.

The former Old Dominion standout is a regular visitor to UC Davis Children’s Hospital and is leading Republic FC’s toy and creative arts fundraising drive this Saturday for the hospital’s creative arts and therapy department. Fans can drop off new, unwrapped toys or art supplies at the main entrance of Bonney Field prior to the match.

“It sounds corny, but those visits are the highlight of my week,” Newton said. “It keeps me levelheaded. I’m starting to build some relationships with the kids who are there a little more often, and that’s great. I love it.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP

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