Courtesy: Sacramento Republic FC/Douglas Taylor
2016 USL Preview: Sacramento Republic FC
Release: 03/17/2016
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Thursday, March 17, 2016

By Sacramento Republic FC’s high standards, the club’s sophomore season was a bit of a letdown following its 2014 championship in Year 1. A strong regular-season push in 2015 ended with a Western Conference Quarterfinal loss to the LA Galaxy II at Bonney Field. Some key players from last year’s squad have moved on, but rest assured, Paul Buckle’s club is eager to return to the glory it experienced in its first campaign.

Head Coach: Paul Buckle
Stadium: Bonney Field
2015 results: 13-8-7 record; 4th in Western Conference
2015 postseason: 1-0 loss vs. LA Galaxy II in West Quarterfinal

Goalkeeper: With Patrick McLain eventually signing with Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire, Sacramento established a new No. 1 early in the offseason with Evan Newton. The club shouldn’t miss a beat with the USL Goalkeeper of the Year finalist who posted 10 shutouts and 89 saves during the regular season with OKC Energy FC last season. He then was pivotal during the postseason, leading OKC during a shootout win against Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in the Western Conference Semifinals. With Republic FC backup Dominik Jakubek returning after an unbeaten performance in 2015 (2-0-2, 3 shutouts, 0.25 GAA), Sacramento touts one of the strongest goalkeeping corps in the league.

Defense: Returning outside backs James Kiffe on the left and Emrah Klimenta on the right represent some solid footing heading into 2016. Klimenta was a valuable link to the offense with four assists last season while playing 26 regular-season matches. The center back duo has changed, but has a good track record with former New York Red Bulls II defender Mike da Fonte logging 25 games and 2,003 minutes last season. Chris Christian will likely be alongside him after his loan with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC last year.

Midfield: Sacramento’s original signing and the face of the franchise for two seasons, Rodrigo Lopez, is now playing in Mexico, and no question his efforts will be missed. The attacking element to Lopez’s game was at another level, but in terms of continuity and stability, Republic FC enters 2016 with a strong group headed by central midfielders Ivan Mirkovic and Octavio Guzman. Guzman had three goals and three assists in 18 games last year and Mirkovic logged 25 games and contributed a goal and assist in 2015. Max Alvarez, Danny Barrera and Agustin Cazarez also played in approximately half of last year’s games for Sacramento. New to the fold are former PDL teammates Matt LaGrassa and Chase Minter, who previously played for the Ventura County Fusion.

Forward: No, former Chelsea FC star Didier Drogba wasn’t auditioning for Sacramento, but his weeklong training with the club before rejoining the Montreal Impact had to have left an impression, especially for Republic FC’s front line players. Sacramento’s attack will necessitate a few players from last year taking on a greater role in 2016. Tommy Stewart and Cameron Iwasa each scored three goals in 17 games last season while Joaquin Rivas and Adnan Gabeljic also saw some minutes off the bench. One addition with some USL experience is Mackenzie Pridham, who was a frequent option off the bench for Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 last season. His 20-match season last year was a follow-up to a seven-game loan with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2014. Internationally, Buckle has brought in Englishman Harry Williams, formerly of Cheltenham Town FC.

Strengths: Defensively, it appears Sacramento is solid across the board. Newton made some noise in the postseason spotlight last year in goal. The mix of returning outside backs and Republic FC’s center back additions also stabilize this team, which last year tied for the lowest total of regular-season goals conceded in the Western Conference.

Weaknesses: Sacramento’s offense naturally enters 2016 with some questions. The manner in which Republic FC will generate its goals will most certainly change in the absence of multi-faceted midfielder Rodrigo Lopez and target forward Justin Braun. That is a combined 18 goals scored and five Lopez assists subtracted from last year.

Key number: 31 – Sacramento’s defense allowed only 31 goals in regular-season play last year, which tied for the fewest allowed in the Western Conference, matching the LA Galaxy II.

Noteworthy matchups: The rematch between 2015 USL runners-up the LA Galaxy II and Sacramento – who last met during Los Dos’ 1-0 win in the Western Conference Quarterfinals – takes place on June 4 at Bonney Field. Another noteworthy game is on June 11 against Real Monarchs SLC in Reno, Nev., at Aces Ballpark, the future home of 2017 expansion side Reno 1868 FC. The Sacramento-Reno rivalry will have to wait one more year, but it could be interesting to see how many spectators will be siding against Sacramento and for the Monarchs, who are nominally the home team for the contest.

Coach’s view: “We need to know how to win, work out our strengths, work out how to play as a team and build a belief. We are working on all of these points, and they are coming to fruition every day.” – Paul Buckle on Republic FC’s Fan Q&A

Current roster (updated: March 17, 2016):
Goalkeepers: Dominik Jakubek, Evan Newton
Defenders: Chris Christian, Mike da Fonte, Derek Foran, James Kiffe, Emrah Klimenta, Alfonso Motagalvan, Carlos Rodriguez
Midfielders: Max Alvarez, Danny Barrera, Agustin Cazarez, Octavio Guzman, Matt LaGrassa, Chase Minter, Ivan Mirkovic
Forwards: Adnan Gabeljic, Cameron Iwasa, Mackenzie Pridham, Joaquin Rivas, Tommy Stewart, Harry Williams

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