Republic FC’s new signings ramp up competition

It may have been no coincidence that Republic FC scored a USL season-high four goals in beating Saint Louis FC 4-3 last Saturday shortly after the club announced it had signed three forwards, including former English Premier League player Carlton Cole.

“Nobody wants their place to be threatened; nobody wants to be placed in jeopardy,” said Graham Smith, Republic FC’s director of football. “Everybody wants to be part of the magic circle, but football can be so cruel.”

Republic FC coach Paul Buckle said the signings weren’t meant to send a message.

Buckle said he has been pleased with how his players have adapted and fought through a grueling season while climbing to the top of the Western Conference standings; Republic FC is tied with Colorado Springs and Vancouver entering this weekend’s games.

He also thinks chemistry will remain intact as Republic FC (10-6-7, 37 points) prepares to play the Portland Timbers 2 (7-12-4, 25 points) Saturday night at Bonney Field.

“I think you do get a lift when signing new players,” Buckle said. “When I played, if you saw a new face come in, it made you raise your game. The boys are always a good training group, but I think there’s an extra spark because they are excited as well.”

Buckle says the addition of forwards Christian Chaney, Wilson Kneeshaw and Cole, and defender Elliott Hord could help push Sacramento over the line in its bid for a second USL championship.

Late-season additions have helped Republic FC in previous seasons.

Defender James Kiffe came aboard in the final seven games of the 2014 season and was an important contributor in the team’s run to the USL championship.

Last season, Republic FC was on the playoff bubble when the San Jose Earthquakes loaned Tommy Thompson, JJ Koval and Mark Sherrod for a critical match against the Tulsa Roughnecks FC at Bonney Field. All played key roles in the 3-1 win, and Republic FC went undefeated in its next four matches to make the playoffs and miss finishing on top of the Western Conference by one point.

Republic FC rookie midfielder Matt LaGrassa said new players make already-competitive training sessions more challenging.

“While guys have been in and out quite a bit, it’s all for the betterment of the team,” LaGrassa said. “If you can increase the competition at training, then you raise the level you can play with in games. Seeing the new people coming in, they are going to either compete for playing spots or they are going to push the people who are playing to be better.”

Because of a delay in travel documents, Cole is expected to arrive in Sacramento “sometime early next week,” Republic FC spokesperson Erika Bjork said.

“Everything is approved; everything is processed,” Bjork said. “We just didn’t expect it to take this long.”

Cole had been expected in Sacramento earlier this week.

Move over, RoRo – Second-year forward Cameron Iwasa is challenging to become Republic FC’s third double-digit USL regular-season goal scorer. He has a club-leading nine league goals after scoring twice against Saint Louis. Thomas Stewart set the record with 11 in 2014. Rodrigo Lopez had 10 in 2014 and 2015. Lopez holds the overall season record with 14 in 2014 and Stewart is second with 13, also in 2014. Iwasa has 10 overall goals this year.

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP