If you could put together a starting XI consisting of any player that had ever put on a Republic jersey, whether under Paul Buckle or Preki, what would it look like? This is my answer. If you want to give one of your own, head over to LineupBuilder.com and hash it out in the comments below.
Let’s start from the back and move forward.
Goalkeeper - Jake Gleeson
The Republic has had four goalkeepers in three years and only Dominik Jakubek has played multiple seasons. Unfortunately for him, however, most of those seasons he has been the backup option.
Of the remaining three keepers, Jake Gleeson is arguably the most talented. At the very least he is certainly the most successful, as he has landed himself a starting spot with the Portland Timbers.
Right Back - Emrah Klimenta
No Republic best XI would be complete without Klimenta. The 25 year-old has a great mix of technique, athleticism, and attacking instinct that makes him the perfect Republic fullback. The fact that he has not been snatched up by a team in a higher league — especially a certain San Jose based club that has seen him more often than any other — is baffling.
Left Back - James Kiffe
Left back is sometimes a hard position for teams to fill, so the Republic should feel fortunate that they found James Kiffe late in the 2014 season. The Santa Barbara native entered the starting XI as an emergency measure to replace Chad Bartlome and has (mostly) stayed there since.
Just like Klimenta, Kiffe is a great fullback for the Republic’s system under both Preki and Paul Buckle. He’s got stamina, technique, and his crossing has become very good under Buckle. Just like Klimenta, it is surprising — but fortunate — that he has not been snatched up by a team in a bigger league (yet. He hasn’t been re-signed for 2017).
Center Back - Nemanja Vukovic
As the 2014 USL Defender of the Year, Vukovic is a no-brainer here. Despite being a natural fullback, Vukovic found a home at center back during his years with the Republic.
Center Back- Mickey Daly
Although Chris Christian did well with the Republic in 2016 and could arguably be included here, Vukovic’s partner, Mickey Daly, is a better selection.
Left Midfield - Rodrigo Lopez
No Republic best XI would be complete without the Republic’s all-time leader in goals and assists. Lopez was a crucial part of the Republic’s offense in 2014 and 2015 and would be in this hypothetical lineup as well.
Right Midfield - Danny Barrera
As the player with the second most Republic assists ever, Barrera deserves a spot in this lineup. Although he and Lopez did occasionally have trouble with trying to fill the same role in 2015, a solution could be found with enough time.
Center Midfield - Ivan Mirkovic
Mirkovic is one of the best defensive midfielders in the entire USL and, word has it, a great student of the game. He was the anchor of the Republic’s midfield in 2014 and 2015, helping to set the tempo of the team and keeping things tight in the back while the rest of the team moved forward.
Center Midfield - Jeremy Hall
Jeremy Hall is the only player on this list to not play even an entire season with the Republic, as he was only with the team for the latter part of the 2016 season. Even with that short amount of time, he was a revelation. Hall proved to be an incredibly important part of the 2016 team with disciplined passing and a veteran presence in central midfield. He was often partnered with the defensive-minded JJ Koval, which would seem to indicate that he might work well with Mirkovic.
Forward - Justin Braun
As captain for the team’s first two season’s, Justin Braun led the line and helped to fuel the Republic’s attack, notching 12 goals and 1 assist in 43 games. In that time he was utilized in a few ways, but most often as a target striker that the offense could work around. He would reprise that role in this hypothetical lineup, though I imagine him staying central more often than he did under Preki.
Forward - Cameron Iwasa
While an argument could be made for Thomas Stewart’s inclusion in this lineup, Iwasa has proven to be at the very least as effective a striker. While Stewart is the more experienced of the two, he was also extremely streaky. He was prolific in 2014 but was fairly ineffective in 2015. Iwasa’s success in 2016 measures up to and surpasses Stewart’s 2014 season in terms of pure goal production. More than that, Iwasa seems to do more for the team in things other than pure goalscoring — things like pressuring defenses.
What do you think of my hypothetical Best XI? Think you could do better? Sound off in the comments below!