A howling Bonney Field mob screamed abuse at the LA Galaxy II as it disappeared into the Sacramento night.
The yellow-shirted referees slunk off the pitch under the guard of a police escort. And all of this was on the farm-to-fork end of the field, where the Sacramento soccer society drank from a full bar and ate fine foods off a buffet line as wide as the penalty area.
Who knows how bad it would have been if the Galaxy boys had to parade out past the Tower Bridge Battalion. Down in its end of Bonney, the battalion stands and shouts all night long. Even in quiet moments, the battalion sounds like a riot going on.
The people blew hot because their team, the Republic FC, had just been eliminated from the United Soccer League playoffs, 1-0, by Galaxy II. The fans’ frustration steamed forth on another one of those nights when the Republic FC controlled the ball pretty much all night but walked away with a loss. It’s been happening all year.
But in the fans’ anger, you could see beauty, and in their passion, the future. There was no doubting the feeling that extended from the middle fingers they raised to the Galaxy II. Their pain and momentary hatred represented additional exhibits in support of the case that Sacramento is ready for big-league soccer.
“You kidding me?” Galaxy II coach Curt Onalfo answered when asked about the Sacramento environment. “Twelve thousand people here. And if you have a bigger venue, it’s probably more people. I think the market’s ready and the market is great for MLS. And it’s a market where it’s really going to matter.”
Onalfo coached two years for the Kansas City Wizards, MLS precursor to the club now known as Sporting Kansas City. Onalfo spent another season in charge of D.C. United and four as an assistant to the Galaxy II’s big club, which is simply known as the Galaxy, which is simply the five-time winner of the MLS championship.
“The fans in this venue – it’s a real soccer venue,” Onalfo said.
Coming off the field to screaming profanity, with a hint of danger in the air? Like Robert Duvall with the smell of napalm in the morning, Onalfo loved it.
“It was insane,” he said. “The atmosphere was a tough one, so yeah – it’s good.”
A year ago, Galaxy II took a 2-0 lead in the playoff semifinals over Republic FC but lost on a free kick in stoppage time by Rodrigo Lopez, his third goal of the match. A week later, Sacramento beat Harrisburg City for the USL championship.
Twelve thousand people here. And if you have a bigger venue, it’s probably more people. I think the market’s ready and the market is great for MLS. And it’s a market where it’s really going to matter.
Curt Onalfo, Galaxy II coach, when asked about the Sacramento soccer environment
Saturday night’s eliminator stopped Republic FC in its effort to become the first professional sports franchise in history to win the crown every year of its existence, or to even match the Cleveland Browns, who won five straight titles from the moment of their 1946 inception.
Emrah Klimenta put the local boys in a bad spot in the 12th minute Saturday night when he fouled L.A.’s Jack McBean in the box, on a ball headed for nowhere. Bryan Olivera nailed the penalty kick for L.A., just beyond Sacramento goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek’s extended stretch.
With the night’s scoring completed, the only thing left was for the Galaxy II men to flop all over the field. They could have given lessons to Lee Strasberg. Olivera, the goal scorer, starred. He limped away near tears after he got caught up with Republic FC’s James Kiffe in the 44th minute. Only problem with the limp, it was a finger he hurt. He showed his boo boo to the crowd. Lacking empathy, they showered him with a storm of boos.
It was the test match that got testy at times. In the 40th minute, Lopez scurried for a Sacramento throw-in. When LA’s Travis Bowen jumped in front of him along the touch line, RoRo hit him in the face with the ball. Bowen went down like Walcott against Marciano. Players faced off all over the field before a soccer game broke out again.
LA’s defense saved it for the Galaxy II. Defender Joe Franco protected the backline and headed out a Justin Braun whack in the 77th minute. The visiting keeper, Clement Diop, rejected Braun even more spectacularly in the 88th minute, going high to flick a header by the Sacramento forward harmlessly over the crossbar.
Republic FC coach Paul Buckle decried Klementa’s penalty. “It was a second of madness,” Buckle said. The coach otherwise hailed the recent efforts of his club that went into Saturday night not having lost in seven previous matches. He verbally poked the officials for not taking sterner measures against Galaxy II players taking dives. He liked the look of his own team that he said “looked dangerous” throughout, but expressed frustration with its inability to score.
Graham Smith, director of football for the Republic FC, promised offseason changes. “Statistics don’t lie,” he said afterward, and Sacramento’s 15 shots to LA’s three but its failure to score continued a theme that plagued the club the second half of the season.
Smith noted that no Republic FC forward scored double-digit goals this season. Expect him and Buckle to scour the globe in search of scoring help in time for 2016.
“We will be busy,” Smith said. “Players want to come here.”
So do the fans, who roared Saturday night in wonderful anger. It’s great for the fans to be happy when they win. It says more about them, and where the team stands in their hearts, when they’re mad when they lose.