Matt Wiesenfarth about to put another one on the board for Sacramento Gold FC. (Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)
Matt Wiesenfarth just reached another summit, yet he's already gearing up for his next big climb. The Sacramento-bred striker has done it all in California's capital city’s vaunted soccer community: tearing up opponents at the youth, club, high school, and college levels before cementing himself as one of the best attackers in amateur soccer with a stellar season for Sacramento Gold FC.
Well, he's an amateur no more. This week, Wiesenfarth signed a professional contract with Sacramento Republic FC of the United Soccer League (USL), finally breaking through with the big boys. His first day on the job seems like a barely believable dream.
"I can't imagine anything like it," Wiesenfarth exclaims. "It's been a dream of mine to play for this club. It's been a long road, but I couldn't be happier."
With the exception of a couple detours, that road began in, went through, and ended at his hometown of Sacramento. After dominating club ball with San Juan Soccer Club, Wiesenfarth made an even bigger name for himself at Jesuit High School, where he bagged a whopping 110 goals in four years. His senior year saw the Marauders complete a perfect 31-0 record, a mark reached thanks to superb play from Matt and former Republic FC (current MLS) midfielder Cameron Iwasa.
After high school, Wiesnfarth continued to run rampant in the college ranks, suiting up for his parents' alma mater, UC Davis. With the Aggies, Wiesenfarth collected many goals and many honors, including Big West Conference Freshman of the Year, the College Soccer News Freshman All-America Second Team, and the All-Big West Second Team. It appeared nothing could stand in Matt's way, as was the plan all along.
"I try to take it one step at a time, but I'm always thinking about the next thing, trying to set it up," reveals Wiesenfarth. "At Jesuit, I was already looking at UC Davis. At Davis, I was looking for what my next step would be."
Unfortunately, the road to success is seldom made of Teflon, and Wiesenfarth would have to deal with some rough patches. The first came in 2014, when a torn ACL sidelined him for most of the season. But, Wiesenfarth battled back to record a strong final college season, finishing as the Aggies' all-time leader in games played and game-winning goals, as well as second all-time in goals scored.
Still, Wiesenfarth found no professional teams were reaching out after graduation. So, he decided to make his name at the amateur level, signing with the Burlingame Dragons of the Premier Development League (PDL). He later got a shot overseas, flying halfway around the planet to New Zealand to play for Canterbury United of the ASB Premiership.
Then, he got a call from his original hometown team.
Wiesenfarth partway through his first multi-goal game with the Gold. (Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)
Ironically, Wiesenfarth's first competitive action involving Sacramento Gold FC came as a member of the opposition. He was a second half substitute in the U.S. Open Cup First Round match between Sacramento and Burlingame last year. That night, not even Matt could prevent the Gold from roaring back from a halftime deficit with three unanswered goals en route to a 3-1 win, Sacramento's first in Open Cup play.
But, when Wiesenfarth was offered a chance to put on the Gold jersey the following season, he jumped at the chance.
"Growing up, [San Juan] would always scrimmage against the Gold, because they were the top team in the city before the Republic started," Wiesenfarth remembers. "Guys like Manolo [Piña] were our idols back in the day. I remember one time I scored on Dom [Jakubek] and I couldn't sleep that night, I was so happy."
It also helped to be coached by men who had been where Wiesenfarth was, and who were now where he had ended up. Gold head coach Ruben Mora, Jr., and assistant coach Derek Evans both have experience with San Juan, and the connection was strong throughout the season.
"Ruben [Mora, Jr.] is a great coach to play for," asserts Wiesenfarth. "He really knows how to manage a team, how to manage each of the players. He really worked with me on reaching my goals and what I wanted to do in my career. Derek [Evans] was a big help as well."
What Wiesenfarth did with the Gold was nothing short of exceptional. Though he only played in half of Sacramento's dozen regular season games, he ended the season as the Gold's top goal scorer, putting nine balls in the back of the net. Six of those came from a pair of hat tricks, the first an unforgettable performance in a 3-3 draw against the rival Sonoma County Sol. Wiesenfarth opened the scoring in the first minute of the game and capped his hat trick in just 32 minutes of play. The offensive display was enough to impress the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) media, who named him that week's Mitre NPSL National Player of the Week.
With only six games to his tally, Wiesenfarth still finished as a Top 10 goalscorer for the West Region, only trailing players on teams with 16-game schedules instead of 12. He also ended up tied for second in the entire NPSL in goals per game, with the top finisher scoring two goals in his only game of the season. That efficiency was on display one last time against Napa Valley 1839, when Matt scored three straight goals in a 25-minute span in a 4-0 Gold win. His second hat trick earned him a spot on the Football Manager NPSL Team of the Week.
Wiesenfarth also formed half of a dynamic one-two punch with midfielder and fellow newcomer Danny Cuevas, who finished second to Matt with six goals on the season. The two were each named Sacramento's "Man of the Match" three times in 2017, and both ended up on Midfield Press' Golden Gate Conference Best XI.
Wiesenfarth and Danny Cuevas [right] powered the Gold offense during the 2017 season. (Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)
In the end, it was only a matter of time before professional scouts recognized what Wiesenfarth had to offer. After his striking season with the Gold, Sacramento's other club, Republic FC, took a glance. After a tryout phase, Republic FC made Matt the third player to go from Sacramento's NPSL club to the city’s USL club, after midfielder Max Alvarez and the very man who gave up the goal that had kept Wiesenfarth up all night back in his San Juan days, Dominik Jakubek.
Wiesenfarth is quick to credit his time with the Gold as a major reason why he finally reached the pros.
"It 100% helped. It was great being part of this organization," he declares. "Everyone in the organization works so hard to put on a show. It wouldn't surprise me if the Sacramento Gold moved up to the pro level, themselves, soon."
But, as one goal is met, another gets added to Wiesenfarth’s already long list. He knows he'll have to set his expectations of himself high and prove his worth to make sure his roster spot remains past this season.
"It will be a lot of hard work, but I'm ready for the challenge,” Matt promises.
Republic FC is entering the stretch run of its season. After a July with not a lot of competition, Republic FC will play ten games from now through the end of September, a grueling run that will likely determine its chances for the postseason. Currently sitting in sixth place in the USL's Western Conference, there is little margin for error.
Goal scoring has been an issue for Republic FC, especially earlier in the season. In Wiesenfarth, the club hopes to have found a potential game changer and late attacking threat off the bench. If he can replicate the success he’s experienced at every level of the game he’s played thus far in his career, Republic FC will be quite happy indeed.
Wiesenfarth is now traveling with and suiting up for Republic FC, and could make his debut this afternoon against Portland Timbers 2. It would be the first step in the latest part of an already long and eventful journey. But for Wiesenfarth, it's another challenge waiting to be conquered, one that offers extra motivation.
"There's no better place to play then for your hometown team." affirms Wiesenfarth.
It's a statement which rings true whether he wears old glory red, or gold.
Wiesenfarth buries another ball into the back of the net. (Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson)