The start of the 2017 NPSL season may be a month away, but "Know Your Opponent" has returned ahead of Sacramento Gold FC's first preseason friendly. The team's opponent: their Capitol City counterparts, who feature a mix of mainstays and fresh faces. After a disappointing finish to last year, they're also looking to make the climb to the top, in more ways than one. In the first 2017 edition of "Know Your Opponent," learn more about Sacramento Republic FC.
City: Sacramento, CA
Stadium: Bonney Field
President: Warren Smith
Head Coach: Paul Buckle
Sacramento Republic FC has only been around for less than half a decade, but has already become one of the most successful minor league clubs (both on and off the field) American soccer has ever seen, both on and off the field. Republic FC is entering its fourth season in the United Soccer League (USL), one of only two minor leagues in American professional soccer, in addition to the North American Soccer League (NASL). Republic FC is one of 15 members competing in the league's Western Conference, which includes clubs from ten different states (and one Canadian province).
The main man behind Republic FC is team president Warren Smith, who's not in his first rodeo with Sacramento sports. Smith, the former CEO of CleanWorld waste management services, co-founded the Sacramento River Cats AAA baseball team and served as its executive vice president for nine years. On the field, Republic FC is lead by head coach Paul Buckle, who replaced former U.S. National Team member Predrag "Preki" Radosavljević in 2015. Buckle played across England for 18 years before becoming a manager. He spent time at the helm of clubs such as Torquay United, Bristol Rovers, and Luton Town before heading to Sacramento.
Republic FC first called Sacramento City College's Hughes Stadium home, before moving into the club's current home, Bonney Field, midway through the 2014 season. Situated on the grounds of Cal Expo, Bonney Field has expanded to sit more than 11,000 people. The location has it's advantages. During the annual California State Fair, the colorful sights and sounds make for an utterly unique atmosphere during summer match days. Bonney Field is also one of the nation's premier rugby venues, having hosted several international matches and serving as the home for the Sacramento Express of PRO Rugby.
2014, Republic FC's first season, proved to be a dream year, with the club announcing its presence by winning the USL Pro Championship, while taking home individual honors such as Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year. After just missing the top spot in 2015, Republic FC finished on top of the Western Conference last year, though the club was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round for the second straight season. During these three years, Republic FC has also shattered several league attendance records, while selling tens of thousands of season tickets and drawing friendlies against professional clubs from England and Mexico.
However, Republic FC has even loftier ambitions. Sacramento is one of 12 cities under consideration for an expansion spot in Major League Soccer (MLS), with the club now at the center of the city's bid. With attendance records smashed, support from the city's government, a soccer-specific stadium plan in place, and continual feverish support from local fans, Sacramento has made a strong case to be a future part of the MLS. With a decision on expansion expected from the league later this year, it appears Sacramento (and Republic FC) have done everything to set themselves apart and prove California's Capitol is #BuiltforMLS.
Danny Barrera: Republic FC's leader on the field, Barrera is both the club's captain and midfield talisman. The Colombia native appeared in all 30 of the club's USL matches in 2016, leading the team with nine assists (a Republic FC record), scored three goals, and finishing with over 3,000 minutes played (one of only three players to do so). Barrera's efforts earned him a spot on the All-USL First Team, as well as the USL Team of the Week for Week 16. Barrera has also laced up his boots for former NASL clubs Atlanta Silverbacks and San Antonio Scorpions, as well as English Football League Championship side Derby County.
Adam Moffat: The marquee signing of the offseason, Moffat brings tremendous talent and experience to the Republic FC attack. The Scotsman is returning to the USL for the first time in ten years (back when it was divided into USL-1 and USL-2). During this time, Moffat won the 2008 MLS Cup as a member of the Columbus Crew, played for four other MLS clubs (producing several YouTube-worthy long-distance goals for the Houston Dynamo), and took part in two Soccer Bowl-winning seasons with the NASL's New York Cosmos. He was also a member of the Dynamo teams which made it to the MLS Cup in 2011 and 2012.
Dominik Jakubek: If this name sounds familiar to Gold fans, it's because Jakubek is one of the few players to put on uniforms for both Sacramento clubs. Jakubek guarded the Sacramento Gold goal for two years before signing on as one of the original members of Republic FC in 2014. He's become a USL champion and club mainstay, still putting up impressive stats as he nears the age of 40. Last season, Jakubek ranked fourth among all USL goalkeepers who played at least 1,000 minutes with a 0.88 goals against average. Plus, he's done it all while serving as goalkeeper coach for his old club, the Gold.
2017 Season Preview:
The 2017 season will mark the end of an offseason of change for Republic FC. It will be the club's first without an MLS affiliate, the San Jose Earthquakes now aligning themselves with expansion club Reno 1868. It will also be the first as a Division II club, the U.S. Soccer Federation having granted the USL such status, along with the NASL. The club's roster is without a few notable players, including Max Alvarez, Cameron Iwasa, and J.J. Coval. However, it also includes new signings Moffat, Tyler Blackwood, and Gabe Gissie, who returns after spending 2016 with the Bethlehem Steel.
Republic FC will hope for a strong start to the season, particularly while missing the comforts of home. Seven of the club's first nine league games will be on the road, with only three games (including a preseason friendly against FC Cincinnati) at Bonney Field over the next three months. The stretch will either prove a bad place for the old and new players to gel, or a perfect place for the team to grow together through adversity. The middle and end stretches of the season will prove kinder and more fruitful with home games. Republic FC finished first place in the Western Conference last year, though it took the last week to clinch it. A good start will help the club's chances of ending on top again.
Saturday, February 25: Sacramento Republic FC @ San Jose Earthquakes, 2 p.m., Avaya Stadium*
Saturday, March 4: FC Cincinnatti @ Sacramento Republic FC, 5:30 p.m., Bonney Field*
Saturday, March 11: Sacramento Republic FC @ Reno 1868, 4 p.m., Greater Nevada Field*
Saturday, March 18: Sacramento Republic FC @ San Francisco Deltas, 7 p.m., Kezar Stadium*
Sunday, March 26: Sacramento Republic FC @ Seattle Sounders 2, 2 p.m., Starfire Stadium
* = Preseason Friendly
Three Things You (Probably) Didn't Know:
In addition to Coach Dom, Max Alvarez was both a former member of Sacramento Gold FC and a Republic FC original. During his three years with Republic FC, Alvarez finished fourth in the USL in assists in 2014, won the year's USL Championship, and dished out the game-winning assist in the club's 2015 friendly against Sunderland AFC of the English Premier League. He also teamed up with a former foe, Mickey Daly, a former member of the rival Sonoma County Sol, from 2014-15. Daly is now playing for another USL club, the Oklahoma City Energy, while Alvarez scored the first goal in the history of the NASL's San Francisco Deltas, with who he is on a trial.
For the third consecutive year, Republic FC will open the USL season on the road against the Seattle Sounders 2 (founded three years ago). The clubs are 1-1 in mutual season openers, with S2 winning 4-2 in 2015 and Republic FC getting a 1-0 revenge win the following year. The setting for all three meetings: Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, WA, where in 2015 Sacramento Gold FC earned a wild, memorable 4-3 win over the then-FC Tacoma 253 thanks to a Manolo Piña hat trick. It was also the place (and year) where U.S. Men's National Team member Clint Dempsey was sent off after ripping up the referee's notebook in a match against the Portland Timbers in the U.S. Open Cup.
By claiming the 2014 USL Championship, Republic FC continued a title-winning tradition with Sacramento-based soccer clubs. Four years earlier, Sacramento Gold FC claimed the 2010 NPSL National Championship. Four years before this, the Gold's NPSL predecessors, the Sacramento Knights, won the 2006 league title. In addition, the Gold's spiritual predecessors, the Sacramento Gold of the American Soccer League, claimed the 1979 league championship. The history extends to indoor soccer as well. In 1999, the Sacramento Knights (different team) won the World Indoor Soccer League crown.
Sacramento Gold FC and Sacramento Republic FC will play on Wednesday, February 22 at American River College. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Fans can buy tickets here.