Sacramento showcased one of the best defensive units in the Western Conference last season and 2021 should be no different given the combination of experience and talent currently listed on the roster.
Head Coach Mark Briggs encourages an attacking style of play, but that all starts with the backline.
Republic FC bolsters an ideal blend of speed, strength, grit and natural leadership in its defensive mix and each individual player beams with positive qualities for the greater good of the team.
Before the group begins training together for the 2021 season ahead, it’s time to take a look at each defensive player expected to fight for as many minutes as possible this year.
2020 was an important season for Shannon Gomez as the speedy fullback returned to the pitch healthy and contributed regularly after about a year-long absence due to injury.
But when Gomez first graced the field last year, he instantly picked up right where he left off being a complete nuisance for opposing attackers while adding an offensive threat from the far flanks.
Down the stretch last season, Gomez made defensive contributions in seven of SRFC’s final nine games including two starts. Even though the lightning-quick defender only logged seven appearances, he still finished tied for fifth on the team with three blocked shots and his 84% successful passing percentage was second-best on the squad by a defender.
Last season was Hayden Sargis’ first with the Republic FC first team but the young defender looked as though he’s been patrolling the backline for a top tier Championship club for years now.
The 2020 USL Championship Young Player of the Year finalist was nothing short of sensational during his debut season – leading the entire team during the regular season in minutes (1,236), completed passes (772) and clearances (46). When the league returned to play in July, The Athletic pointed out that Sargis was a premier top young talent worth keeping tabs on.
Over the course of the season, Sargis never disappointed. His head coach Mark Briggs took note of his central defender’s positive play and knows that Sargis has the potential to be a leader for many years to come in the California capital.
“There are so many words being said about Hayden,” Head Coach Mark Briggs said about Sargis during anend of season press conference. “I think the most praise you can give him is that he is a future captain of this football club. The way he carries himself and the maturity he has on and off the field, the sky’s the limit for Hayden.”
After one season anchoring San Antonio FC’s stellar defense in 2020, Mitchell Taintor is back in an Old Glory Red kit for what will be his third season in Sacramento.
Last year, Taintor was a staple on a defensive unit that conceded the fewest goals in the Western Conference – 15 – along with San Diego. After appearing in the starting eleven for SAFC in 16 of 17 matches, Taintor returns to the Indomitable City where made over 70 appearances across all competitions in 2018 and 2019.
Taintor – a towering centerback – also adds an offensive threat to Sacramento’s attack and in his SRFC career, the defender has found the back of the net three times and recorded four assists. Of his goals, one sticks out in particular after Taintor laced a blistering effort from near the midway line that beat the Reno 1868 FC goalkeeper and later that night the highlight made its way to ESPN’s Top Ten list as the No. 8 moment.
After spending the 2020 season competing in Ireland’s top tier of professional soccer, Dan Casey is bringing his defensive talents and powerful style of play to Sacramento’s backline.
Casey has experience at both the right back and center back positions and brings a commanding presence with him all over the pitch. The defender began his career in Sunderland’s development system where he played with the U18 and U23 teams before returning to his home country to protect and patrol the backline for Bohemians FC.
Last season, Casey helped to steer his side to a second-place finish during league play where he made 15 starts in 18 league fixtures and one start during Europa League Qualifying.
“Dan’s addition brings physicality, aggressiveness, and a strong pedigree to our defensive core,” Republic FC General Manager Todd Dunivant said of his new defender. “His intensity and grit fit in very well to our team mentality, and he is the type of defender that opposing attackers do not like facing.”
Markhus ‘Duke’ Lacroix will be joining the Indomitable Club’s defense for the 2021 season but when the defender first entered the league, he was more known for his goalscoring touch than his defensive prowess.
The versatile and experienced player entered the league as a forward when he first laced up his boots professionally with Indy Eleven in the NASL before joining Championship-side Orange County SC. After his eye for goal made him an attractive option out of the University of Pennsylvania, Lacroix transitioned to defense where he became a mainstay in Reno 1868 FC’s starting XI.
Now, the defender will join Mark Briggs’ men after a year with Charlotte Independence where he started every single league fixture for the 2020 Eastern Conference Quarterfinalists. The defender – who logged minutes last season at left back and center back – won 80% of his tackles and his 20 clearances was fourth best on the squad.
For the second straight season, Jordan McCrary finished a USL Championship season voted by his Republic FC teammates as the squad’s Defensive MVP.
He won it following the 2019 season and once the 2020 campaign came to a close, his peers felt he was without question deserving of the honor for a second consecutive time.
McCrary was a staple in Sacramento’s backline last year, featuring in 15 of 17 fixtures and leading the entire team in starts with 15. The left back was also the only player to log over 1,300 minutes and he led the entire team with 25 interceptions, 83 duels won, 36 tackles and 24 tackles won. 2020 was the second straight season he’s led Sacramento in all four defensive categories.
2021 will be McCrary’s third season competing for the boys in Old Glory Red after joining from MLS-side Seattle Sounders FC.
Follow Republic FC on social media.