They had the crowd on their side and the ball at their feet almost all night, but one thing appeared to be missing Saturday for Republic FC – the magic.
It’s been ducking in and out on Republic FC all season. One week, it energizes the club in an impressive 2-0 win over Seattle. The next, it goes AWOL, as it did Saturday in an excruciating 1-0 loss to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks.
Sacramento’s defending USL champs need to get it back quick, like Friday night, when they play Colorado Springs again in the Switchbacks’ home altitude.
At sea level on Bonney Field, Republic FC gave up an early goal and couldn’t get it back. On the Front Range of the Rockies, the club will give up 6,035 feet.
“They’re going to feel it,” said Switchbacks midfielder Rony Argueta, who nailed a 25-yarder in the third minute for Saturday’s only score.
What Sacramento also might be feeling today is desperation.
Republic FC went into Saturday with a chance to pull within a point of first place in the Western Conference. The club came out of it one point removed from missing the playoffs with seven matches to go.
Last year at this time, Republic FC was in the middle of a six-game winning streak on the way to a 10-1-1 finish that set the stage for the championship. Now the club has lost two of its past three matches with four of its final seven on the road.
Whether Republic FC has lost the indescribable something that seems to infuse championship seasons, or whether the club is simply losing, is a question that will have its answer before the next equinox.
“It seems this year the teams are a lot better,” said Emrah Klimenta, Republic FC’s offensive-minded right-side defender who worked several balls into position Saturday but couldn’t make a scoring connection with the front liners. “The league has gotten a lot stronger. Colorado is a great side and all credit is due to them. I just feel we’ve been on the short end of the stick all year, of chances created but not being able to put the ball into the nets.
“Last year was last year. This year is this year. We’ve got to focus on the future and play our game and hopefully get some goals in.”
It will be helpful Friday if Republic FC does not give up another quick goal. Saturday, Argueta took a cleared ball in midfield and ran through Rodrigo Lopez and Ivan Mirkovic before blasting the winner into the upper right corner of the net past Patrick McLain. Ahead in the first three minutes, Colorado Springs spent the next 87 protecting the last 18 yards, to Sacramento’s enduring frustration.
Republic FC controlled the ball well more than half the match and delivered 11 shots to Colorado’s three.
“At the end, it’s the goals that count, not chances created,” Klimenta said.
It will also be helpful for Republic FC in Colorado if the referee awards the club a penalty kick if one of its attackers gets mauled in the box. In the 37th minute, the Switchbacks twice in as many seconds knocked down Max Alvarez when the pelota was his. Showing consistency, referee Joe Dickerson did not call either of them.
“I told him, ‘You should see it on camera when you get a chance,’” Alvarez said.
Kaleemullah nearly tied it in the 59th minute with a 30-yard shot from almost the end line. Colorado goalkeeper Devala Gorrick skied to his left to barely deter the shot from dipping under the bar. After knocking it away, Gorrick hung on the bar and swung into the nets. In the NBA, they might have called him for a technical foul.
In the match aftermath, Republic FC technical director Graham Smith noted some technical flaws in his club of his creation.
“You have to be responsible, not looking for excuses,” Smith said. “The players know what they have to do. They are well-schooled in how to break teams down, and the players are given an opportunity to prove themselves. The coach (Paul Buckle) works assiduously with them all week. He works on everything, from set pieces to the pattern of play. Everybody knows their role within the team. If a player does not accept responsibility and carry out his obligations, you can have problems.”
Smith did not name names, but he said he spotted “one or two players who actually showed that they didn’t want responsibility, and that’s not acceptable. We needed that spark that wasn’t there tonight. There was no spark from any individual.” No magic, either.
Despite his frank assessments, don’t think Smith left Bonney Field smitten in anger. Anything but. He smiled and waved as he walked off into the darkness, thinking he had seen something of the same earlier in the day when he consumed a full schedule of English Premier League opening-day matches on television.
“The strange thing is, the same things happened in those games that happened in our game,” Smith said. “They just happened to better players at a faster pace. The same mistakes, the same problems. I always enjoy it.”
He’ll enjoy it more if the champs can regain the magic.
Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, firstname.lastname@example.org, @andyfurillo