Sacramento Gold FC is set to take the field for the first time in 2017. The preseason friendly presents a good chance for the squad to shake off the offseason rust, while getting the new guys integrated on the field. The same can also be said for the Gold's opponent, whose talent, experience, and firepower will present true tests. Here's a preview of tomorrow night's match.
A Fresh Start
For both clubs, the friendly offers an opportunity to put the woes of how the 2016 season ended behind. For Sacramento Republic FC, a first place finish the USL Western Conference was undone by a second straight first round playoff exit. Meanwhile, controversy sprouted up last month, due to confusion over the city's bid for a MLS expansion spot and Republic FC's position in it. Though the situation has been resolved, finally getting back on the field will be all the more beneficial to leaving the bad blood behind.
The Gold looked all set to also finish first last season. However, a tough stretch of schedule and some bad breaks sparked a horrific slide, with Sacramento losing five of its last seven games. This included a regular season finale at home, where a draw would have been enough for a playoff spot. But, the Gold lost and missed the postseason for only the second time in its history. A long offseason later, and having picked themselves off the canvas, licked their wounds, and rested up, the Gold will finally take the first step in getting over the disappointment of 2016 and finish the job in the 2017 season.
One player knows both squads better than anyone else. It's because he's the only one who can take the field tomorrow having worn both clubs' uniforms. For once, Republic FC goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek will be rooting against the Gold, with whom he suited up for two seasons and still serves as an assistant coach. The preseason friendly will be a sort of coming-full-circle moment for Jakubek, who's since won a USL championship and proven he's still an elite keeper, even as he creeps closer to 40.
For Jakubek's former club, it could also prove to be a rare chance to take down their coach. For any player, student, employee, being able to get one up on your coach, teacher, boss (no matter how nice they are) is always a fun, welcome proposition. Practice is one thing. If Jakubek is in goal for any bit of time tomorrow, the Gold attack will have an opportunity for bragging rights for the rest of the year (and probably longer), if they can strike a goal past Coach Dom in a real game. For Jakubek (and any coach), the prospect of getting scored on by your players is uninviting at best. Can the Gold get at least one in Dom's net, or will the coach shut out his players?
Though the Gold offense will also be up for a tough challenge, the difference in the game will come down to the defense. The first half of the 2016 season featured superb defending, often to the point of sealing the three points for the Gold. However, lapses began to form as the year went on, with injuries to the defensive line contributing to a decline in play and overall results. Getting their sea legs ahead of the 2017 season is already an issue before you take into account the firepower Republic FC possesses.
This includes Adam Moffat, who owns an MLS Cup ring and has a YouTube highlight reel of long-distance golazos, Tyler Blackwood, who played for an English Premier League team before tearing it up in the USL, Danny Barrera, who was named First Team All-USL and set the Republic FC single-season assists record, and Trevin Caesar, who for was the leading scorer for the team that knocked Republic FC out of the playoffs last season. The Republic FC squad will also likely be the biggest and strongest the Gold will face this year. All of these factors present major tests, but also potential confidence boosts for the Gold defense.
In truth, the biggest factor in tomorrow's preseason friendly is just that: it's a preseason friendly. With nothing except pride on the line and the match serving as a warm-up for the regular season, it's unknown exactly who will be on the field and for how long. Both teams will also be cautious as to not get their players injured before the start of the season. This point could be amplified by what may or may not come down from the sky tomorrow night.
Republic FC has already seen two preseason friendlies canceled due to inclement weather. With this week's forecast calling for plenty of rain, fans will hope for Mother Nature to let the match go on as planned, or at least with as few rain drops as possible. Even with these factors in mind, the match should still prove to be exciting and a fun atmosphere for Sacramento's soccer fans. Which Capitol City club will leave the field victorious? Will the Gold be able to handle Republic FC's strong attack, while providing some of their own? We'll find out at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, February 22 at American River College.