It seems like just yesterday Sacramento Republic FC opened their 2017 season with a weeklong training camp in Sinaloa, Mexico; the same facility where Liga MX clubs Santos Laguna, Club Tijuana and Ascenso MX club Dorados de Sinaloa train. By all accounts, the trip was revered for unifying the players on and off the pitch and setting a foundation for the season. But that was seven months ago.
Since then, Republic FC have navigated through a brutal road schedule to start the season, weathered a litany of injuries, added new players, while also saying goodbye to several familiar faces. There was even a period early in the season where the team struggled to find the back of the net. So far, they’ve survived these ups and downs, which is something that nearly half of the teams in the United Soccer League (USL) can’t claim.
It’s no accident that Republic FC find themselves in firm playoff contention as they head into the home stretch, and fortunately for Sacramento, the early road schedule will pay dividends in September as they play five of their six games at home, with the only road game coming against Rio Grande Valley FC Toros. Even with a home-heavy schedule, every match will present playoff-like conditions as opponents like Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Oklahoma City Energy FC, and Phoenix Rising FC will all be fighting to qualify for the playoffs as well. Every point scored will be critical, and there’s no doubt the game intensity will be high.
These games will also be critical as Republic FC head out on the road in October against Orange County SC, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and Reno 1868 FC to close out the season.
But if history is any indicator, good fortune may be on the side of Republic FC. Looking back to the inaugural season of 2014, Republic FC are 8-3-4 all-time in September matches, including a 5-2-2 record at Papa Murphy’s Park (previously Bonney Field). Additionally, they have netted 25 goals, while only giving up 12 over the same period. Translation? They’ve fared well when it’s counted most and will look to continue that trend this September.
“It’s quite simple, actually,” said Republic FC Head Coach and Technical Director Paul Buckle when asked about what will it take. “I think we’ll create chances between now and the end of season. [It’s something} we’ve done all year. The team now is in good form going forward. It’s about keeping the boys confident in front of the goal and working on the backline.”
Confidence is one thing, but finding a way to manage several key player losses to injuries – particularly the loss of seasoned players like Danny Barrera and Adam Moffat at midfield – has been daunting.
It will be interesting to see how the recent additions of Hayden Partain, Matt Wiesenfarth and Academy product Roberto Hategan factor in down the stretch. In limited action, Partain and Wiesenfarth have been impressive, and while Hategan has yet to make an official USL appearance (only appearing once in a friendly versus CF Pachuca in July), all three could play an instrumental role for Buckle before the final whistle is blown on the regular season.
Buckle acknowledges that his expectations for Partain and Wiesenfarth are not massively high given that they joined the team so late in the season, but he seems confident in how both players have performed so far and how they can support the team moving forward.
“For someone [Wiesenfarth] that is not used to this level of football, and Partain, I think they’ve been invaluable additions given the circumstances,” continued Buckle. “Their levels [of play] need to continue to be high, and we just have to keep trusting [them].”
Republic FC should also get a lift from the return of Peter McGlynn, who after spending the first half of the season on the injured list, is back on the pitch. McGlynn got his first action on Aug. 23 versus Swope Park Rangers where he logged 68 minutes.
McGlynn, who was drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes in 2013, was signed in the off-season from Longford Town FC of the Irish Premier League for his ability to play in different positions around the pitch. Given the injuries to Barrera and Moffat, McGlynn is a welcomed presence who should bolster Republic FC’s depth, and most importantly, provide some relief to players that have logged heavy minutes this season.
“I think [I bring] intensity,” said McGlynn. “You can ask the guys in training. I bring a lot of intensity and probably have a little bit of a nasty streak in me, which I think every team kind of needs a little bit of as long as it doesn’t go overboard. To be honest, I just want to help the team as much as I can. If Paul asks me to do a job somewhere, I’m there. I can play in a number of positions. I’m looking to work hard and do whatever I can.”
Republic FC will also lean heavily on its veteran, core players such as Emrah Klimenta, James Kiffe, Jeremy Hall and Chris Christian (to name a few) who have loads of big-game experience. This should be a huge advantage over younger, more inexperienced teams. Additionally, Republic goalkeeper Evan Newton has been solid this season (third in the Western Conference in clean sheets), and with a strong backline in front of him, it should be difficult on opponents to push goals through.
In the end, it will come down to execution. But Republic FC are in a good position. They’re one more indomitable September away from making the playoffs for the fourth-consecutive season, which is a remarkable feat for a franchise that’s as many years old. They say get into the playoffs and anything can happen. With the improvement in the quality of play in the USL, the Republic will unquestionably need to earn it.
“It’s a strong league with some strong teams in it, but we’re right in there,” said Buckle. “We need to hold our nerve, keep playing our football and work hard. The key ingredient is to work hard…work really hard and I believe we’ve got the talent to make an exciting finish.”
William Hodges is a staff writer for Indomitable City Soccer. You can follow him on Twitter @william_hodges.