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Opinion: Republic FC scoring with target audience

Members of the Tower Bridge Battalion cheer for the Republic FC on Wednesday at Bonney Field against Vancouver.
Members of the Tower Bridge Battalion cheer for the Republic FC on Wednesday at Bonney Field against Vancouver.

Soccer night in Sacramento found a couple of lawyers holding down the corner of the bar at de Vere’s Irish Pub, talking about the beautiful game and the Indomitable City – how the spirit of one has energized the soul of the other.

Maren MacAdam and Caitlin Colman, who live on the grid and play in midtown, had just taken in Republic FC’s 3-1 victory Saturday over the LA Galaxy II at Bonney Field. As they watched a happy mob sporting the same old-glory red as the scarves around their necks, they discussed how a little third-division soccer team has provided a crossing assist to a city seizing its own time.

“It’s so amazing,” MacAdam said of her Republic FC experience. “Everyone comes together. Before the game, after the game, I just feel such a sense of community when I go to these games.”

That sense was evident when thousands of millennials marched on midtown. Second Saturday’s Art Walk helped create the throng, but the descent of young soccer fans from Bonney Field lent zing to the scene.

Two hours earlier, Rodrigo Lopez, Republic FC’s maestro in the middle, and Emrah Klimenta, a defenseman majoring in give-and-go dashes up the sideline, had blown holes through the villains from Los Angeles.

“Something about playing in front of our fans, playing on this field, playing the LA Galaxy, it just gets me going,” Klimenta said.

Frolickers like Colman and MacAdam crowded 16th Street from Karma Brew to the Firestone Public House. They jammed J Street from Harlow’s to Centro. They prowled the R Street fun zone from R-15 to the Shady Lady. Traffic backs up so much at the corner of 20th and K, where Faces and Badlands share the intersection with LowBrau, that nobody goes there anymore.

Colman owns a house in midtown. She’s a third-generation 49ers fan learning how to dig soccer. She gets job offers from San Francisco firms but she says she isn’t interested. She’s from El Dorado Hills and wants to stay close to home, and she’s willing to pay higher taxes to get more kick for her sports fix.

“We need more stuff like this to bring us together as a community,” Colman said.

Colman, 30, and MacAdam, 31, are millennials in the crosshairs of Republic FC’s demographic target as team owners pursue Major League Soccer.

A couple of days after the victory over Galaxy II, Republic FC president Warren Smith talked about the phenomenon he launched and has nourished. The setting was the Federalist, a storage locker of a bar dropped on the side of an alley off 20th Street, the conversation fueled by a few pints of Big Daddy IPA.

When Smith looks at Republic FC, Sacramento and midtown, he sees convergence – of a town at a tipping point, with a team’s journey toward the big league of North American soccer, in a neighborhood where a widening swath of watering holes playsinto his marketing plan.

All this bar-and-soccer talk didn’t just ride in on the Delta breeze. Smith said it’s written into the history of the game, the way the sport emerged in some of its most supportive environs.

“The thing about soccer clubs, the way they are operated traditionally in Europe, they were always owned by local pubs,” Smith said. “And the barkeep, to keep his customers happy, had to learn to listen to them. So soccer, then, is a lot more driven by grass roots than other sports. It’s because of that style that there’s a feeling of ownership by fans. We’ve tried to tap into that. The scene is really organic.”

In MacAdam and Colman, it’s easy to see a yearning for a sense of community, and they’ve seized on soccer as a means of achieving a communal connection.

As Smith made his way out of the Federalist, Republic FC fan Tristan Brown and his pal, Mark Blaney, who comes from Oakland to watch the games, stood to shake Smith’s hand. They thanked him for this soccer thing that has erupted around them.

Brown, 32, a lobbyist for the California State Employees Association, moved to Sacramento five or six years ago from Southern California. Brown still loves his Dodgers, but he needed something to make him part of his new town – the one he chose instead of the place he landed by birth. He selected Republic FC as his Sacramento touchstone.

“It was the first thing I could cling to as something new and about Sacramento that wasn’t in a lot of other places that I liked,” Brown said. “You could be a Kings fan, but this is something that is more homegrown.”

He’s got a sense now that he belongs somewhere, to something.

“I’ll go home and watch a Dodger game on my computer and I’m still disconnected from the community,” Brown said. “But I can come here and I can look at another guy wearing a red scarf and do a little head nod.”

Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

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