In its first preseason matchup against a USL Championship side, Republic FC took a 4-1 win over Western Conference foe Colorado Springs Switchbacks on Thursday. With six players making scoring contributions, it was the team’s young players that made the difference, with standout performances from former academy players and goals from two of last year’s signings.
The contest marked Republic FC’s second preseason tune-up and first in a series of three scrimmages at the Desert Friendlies. The club came into the match on the heels of a 1-1 draw with MLS side San Jose Earthquakes last week, in which Jack Gurr’s corner set up a Russell Cicerone goal. Both players also added an assist against Colorado Springs.
“Going into the game, we wanted to take a step forward,” said First Team Assistant Coach Martín Vásquez. “We wanted to continue to push our fitness and see more of the good moments we had against San Jose. Our goal was to once again get each player at least 45 minutes and mix up the lineup groups so we can see how different guys feed off each other.”
Just three weeks into their first preseason with the first team, the club’s youngest players grabbed Thursday’s opportunity with both hands, leaving a big impression on the technical staff and game. One of the highlights came when 13-year-old Da’vian Kimbrough and 16-year-old Blake Willey connected for a goal, with Willey playing a perfectly-paced through ball to Kimbrough who skillfully netted his first goal with the first team. “It was great to see Da’vian score his first goal,” said Vásquez. “It’s exciting for everyone in the organization. The players were very happy for him, we all are.”
Vásquez wasn’t in Sacramento as Kimbrough rose through the academy, netting 61 goals in his first two seasons, but the young forward’s talent a potential have quickly stood out in training camp. “Sometimes you forget that he’s only 13 years old, and when you do remember, you’re really blown away,” said Vásquez. “He continues to grow every day, and on Thursday we got to see him play against a good team in Colorado Springs, and not only did he hold his own, but he also got a goal. I think for him, the sky’s the limit – it’s still going to take some time, but he’s going in the right direction.”
Willey and Kimbrough are among a group of four players in the 2024 squad to be developed in the club’s youth academy – the most academy graduates the club has ever had on professional contracts at one time. Republic FC’s academy continues to be one of the top youth development programs in the country, creating a strong local pipeline of players ready for professional-level competition. Vásquez and the technical staff also had praise for 19-year-old Rafael Jauregui and 16-year-old Chibi Ukaegbu in Thursday’s match. Jauregui looked dangerous in the attack and created several chances, changing the energy and pace in the second half, while Ukaegbu jumped into the backline, holding his own while going toe-to-toe with some of the quickest strikers in the league.
Inspired by the youngest players on the roster, 21-year-old Aldair Sanchez added a brace of his own in the match. “He made the effort, he made the runs and put himself in very good spots, and had great finishes,” said Vásquez of Sanchez’s performance.
24-year-old Cristian Parano netted his first goal for Sacramento as well: “He wanted to send a message,” said Vásquez. The Argentinian winger joined Republic FC toward the end of the 2023 season and is embracing the opportunity to participate in a full preseason with the club, ready to be a club leader and push his team to win a championship.
Republic FC will continue to train in Tucson for the next six days with two more friendlies – Louisville City FC on February 11 and Spokane Velocity FC on February 14. “Preseason is where you start to build a culture that will last you the entire season,” continued Vásquez. “This is where we set the tone for the year. The guys are putting in the hard work and the coaches are finding our stride as a new group as well. I think with the training we’ve done, and the matches we’ve seen so far, we’re going to be ready for opening night.”