The Republic FC squad has seen several additions to its roster leading into the 2017 season, including one just ahead of the club’s first USL match with the re-signing of defender Chris Christian on March 25. The club secured its first win of the season against Seattle Sounders FC 2 in the season opener on Sunday, March 26. But the win did more than record three points; it highlighted how Republic FC – the USL club with the most points and wins since 2014 – has returned with its strongest roster ever.
The new faces have clicked quite seamlessly into the team led by Head Coach and Technical Director Paul Buckle. Early performances by the Republic FC team are showing plenty of signs that this is the club’s most complete roster with the right mix of experience, youth, speed and grit.
One of the most competitive positions in the squad this season is in the frontline. Buckle bolstered his attacking options with some of the best strikers in the league, including Sammy Ochoa who led Tulsa Roughnecks FC in goals with 11 in 2016. Also joining Ochoa up front are Trevin Caesar, who scored a club-leading ten goals with Orange County SC in 2016, and Tyler Blackwood, who finished as Phoenix Rising FC’s second leading goal scorer in 2016 with eight goals.
Ochoa has already proven his goal scoring prowess with Republic FC, scoring a club-leading six goals in preseason and scoring the team’s first goal of the 2017 season against S2, as well as recording an assist in that same match.
“Sacramento is one of the top teams in the league,” said Ochoa. “The fan base is amazing. We get 11,000 plus fans that show up to the matches. That’s new for me so now that I’m here I’m excited and happy to be part of the club. I was with the Roughnecks last year and I loved it, I had a great time, but I had an opportunity to come to Sacramento and I took it. Now I’m here, and I’m here to win and fight for a title.”
I remember last year looking at Sacramento and seeing the traveling support and the fans there and how popular the team was in the city really made me jealous, so to be part of it now, I’m very happy and I’m looking forward to experiencing that.
Caesar and Blackwood also struck the back of the net in the preseason, with a goal and an assist for each. Along with Ochoa, both forwards join Republic FC from fellow USL Western Conference clubs and are familiar with the rampant support the California capital has for it’s hometown club.
“I think one of the main things I’m looking forward to is being at a team with such huge support. I remember last year looking at Sacramento and seeing the traveling support and the fans there and how popular the team was in the city really made me jealous, so to be part of it now, I’m very happy and I’m looking forward to experiencing that,” said Blackwood. “I already experienced some of it just walking around the city myself. Being part of the team here it feels like a family as well. Everyone is friends with everyone and everyone gets along. That’s what you need to have a championship winning team, a close-knit team and that’s what we’ve got here.”
Gabe Gissie and Lamin Suma finish out the new Republic FC forwards, although the former is no stranger to Sacramento.
For Gissie, joining Republic FC for the 2017 season is a sort of homecoming. At 20 years old, Gissie is the youngest player on the squad, just a few months younger than defender Carlos Rodriguez. Gissie first arrived at Republic FC in 2014 at just 17 years old and was a part of the Championship winning squad that season, making 14 appearances as a rookie. Gissie made 19 appearances the following season in 2015 and recorded his first professional goal on May 23 against Oklahoma City Energy FC.
Gissie departed Republic FC at the end of the 2015 season, signing for Bethlehem Steel FC as a member of their inaugural squad ahead of 2016 USL season. The forward re-signed with Republic FC in December 2016 after making 19 appearances for the Steel in 2016.
“It’s a great feeling to be back at home because this has been like my family since 2014,” said Gissie. “This is where everything really began. I had my first professional goal here and really started my career. I am very happy to be back.”
For his part, Suma signed with the club after spending 2016 with Philadelphia Fury of the American Soccer League (ASL).
“Before coming here, I’d heard about the fanbase,” said Suma. “I’d heard a lot of things about the fanbase and the stadium. It’s a dream come true, being here in their presence and the feeling that it brings walking into the stadium.”
Defenders Enrique Montano and Julius James join the backline for the 2017 after signing with the club in October 2016 and March 2017, respectively. They join a backline that includes returning defenders Emrah Klimenta, James Kiffe, Carlos Rodriguez and Elliot Hord. The 2016 defense, along with goalkeepers Dominik Jakubek and Newton, recorded the lowest number of goals allowed in a single season, with 27 goals in 30 matches and helped keep the current undefeated streak alive, which now stands at 12 regular season USL matches without a loss for Republic FC.
Aside from keeping a stellar goals-against average last season, Republic FC’s backline also excelled offensively. Between Klimenta, Hord, Kiffe and Rodriguez the quartet scored four goals and recorded eights assists in all competitions throughout 2016.
With just one match played this USL season, Kiffe and Klimenta have already kept up the defense’s knack for contributing to the attack. In Republic FC’s 2-1 season opening win at Seattle, Kiffe recorded the assist on Ochoa’s goal, while Klimenta struck the match winner.
Montano fits into the mold of the attack-minded defender that Buckle often employs. The Salinas, Calif. native signed his first professional contract with Louisville FC for the club’s inaugural season in 2015, and recorded six assists that season.
James and midfielder Adam Moffat round out the squad. Together with midfielder Jeremy Hall, the trio hold a combined 20-years of MLS experience. James has taken over the central defender position that was left up for grabs after Rodriguez was sidelined with an ankle injury during preseason and Mike da Fonte parted for MLS club Colorado Rapids. During his career, James has appeared for MLS clubs Toronto FC, D.C. United, Houston Dynamo and Columbus Crew.
Just a one match into the 2017 USL season, Moffat has carved out a place for himself in the Republic FC midfield. The Scotland native spent last season with NASL club New York Cosmos, appearing in 22 matches, recording eight goals and winning the 2016 Soccer Bowl with club, his second consecutive championship with the Cosmos.
“It’s the start of the season, we had the first away game which was great but we can’t wait to play the game at home,” said Moffat. “I’ve heard so many good things, from players who’ve played here in the past and obviously the guys who are still here. I’m just excited for this weekend. It’s another opportunity, another three points up for grabs and that’s how we want to start at home.”