Matt LaGrassa makes splash in first start with Republic FC

Rookie midfielder Matt LaGrassa’s first start for Republic FC on Saturday night was so impressive that he even won over Saint Louis FC’s broadcasters.

Bob Ramsey and Bill McDermott raved about LaGrassa’s energy, vision and impact in helping Sacramento build a 3-0 lead in the first 17 minutes en route to a 4-3 win over the host side.

“I watch all the games back almost immediately after we play them, and my family had told me about (the comments) a bit because they were watching the livestream,” LaGrassa said Wednesday after a training session at Cosumnes River College. “(The broadcast team) liked me, for whatever reason – they were a little over the top – but it was a great team win.”

The former Pleasant Grove High School star assisted on goals by Cameron Iwasa in the 11th minute and Octavio Guzman in the 17th minute as Republic FC scored the most goals in a USL match this season and climbed into a three-way tie with Vancouver and Colorado Springs for first place in the Western Conference.

Iwasa, a Jesuit grad and high school rival of LaGrassa, had two goals against Saint Louis, giving him a team-leading nine.

“The game was a bit surreal,” LaGrassa said. “When you are waiting for something so long and you get your opportunity, I didn’t want to let it slip away. You never know when you’re going to get your next chance. So I wanted to make my mark on the game.”

The former Cal Poly standout started the season in Sacramento and appeared for only one minute of one match before he was loaned to the Tulsa Roughnecks FC on June 23. He was expected to finish the season with the struggling USL side. But after two strong starts for Tulsa, plus recent Republic FC injuries and player transactions, coach Paul Buckle recalled LaGrassa on July 20.

Upon his return, LaGrassa saw playing time off the bench in four consecutive matches while continuing to excel.

“I wouldn’t have brought him back unless I thought he was going to help the team,” Buckle said. “He came back a different player. He’s really shown a great deal of maturity in a short period of time. That shows the value of the loan system.”

LaGrassa noted that in addition to his two assists – his first as a professional – Iwasa scored twice and Tommy Thompson, playing on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes, added two assists. All three grew up playing soccer locally and know each other well.

“I’ve been playing with and against Cam since I was 14 years old,” LaGrassa said. “To be on the (USL) Team of the Week with him, it was one of the moments like, ‘Wow! Look how far we’ve come.’ I’ve known Tommy (Granite Bay High) for quite a long time, and I’ve known his family well. So it’s really a cool thing to see all the local kids doing well together. We grew up in the same place, we understand each other and we have that chemistry with each other.”

Waiting for Cole – Newly signed Carlton Cole’s arrival from the United Kingdom has been delayed by passport issues. The former English Premier League star is expected to arrive in Sacramento on Thursday.

Assistant head coach Adam Smith, filling in while Buckle is in the United Kingdom to be with his seriously ill father, anticipates the forward will join the team for training Friday. It’s unknown what role, if any, he plays Saturday against the visiting Portland Timbers 2.

“If we are going to include him in the team in some way, shape or form for this weekend, we need to integrate him with the lads,” Smith said. “We’ll need to have him involved (in training) on Friday. We have to see where he is fitness-wise. But we know what he is and what he can do, and those are all things we’ve been lacking here. So it’s going to be a huge boost for the players, a huge boost for the club having a player with his power and strength come into the team.”

Buckle is expected to return to Sacramento for Friday’s training.

Moving forward – Smith kept a close watch on Republic FC’s two other new forward signings – Wilson Kneeshaw from England and Christian Chaney from the Fresno Fuego – during Wednesday’s training session.

“Wilson is coming from a different country, so we are going to see how he settles in,” Smith said. “But he has electric pace. He’s got something special that will scare the opposition. Christian is a natural goal scorer. He just has to prove it at this level. He has done it at the (Premier Development League) level, but he’s got to step up and prove he can do it at this level.

“So it’s exciting, though Paul and I have some headaches ahead of us from a selection standpoint.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP