After a long and often painful offseason, the first preseason match of the Republic's 2016 season has arrived. When the team kicks off against Colorado Rapids at 5pm tonight there will be new faces, new kits, and (most likely) a fairly new style of play.
Since there is nothing to play for and no points at stake, friendlies are generally viewed as little more than filler and received less with thunderous applause than with a polite but dispassionate golf clap. That is certainly the case for the beast known as the midseason friendly. However, the preseason friendly, and today's game in particular, is a bit different.
Today's friendly against the Rapids is best viewed not as a test of the Republic's mettle against MLS competition, but as an opportunity for us fans to get some answers to questions that have been on our minds for quite some time. Of course, this one game will not provide all the answers we so desperately crave, but it will at least give us concrete evidence to base our opinions and wild speculation on.
Let's dive into some of the questions we might see answered tonight.
How will the Republic play in Paul Buckle's first full season as Head Coach?
Although we got a preview of how the Republic might play under Buckle last season, this preseason will give us a much better idea of what is in store for us. This is, after all, his opportunity to build a roster and instill a style of play into the team from day one.
When he first joined the team, Buckle talked a lot about wanting to balance attack with defense, something we saw play out in the final stretch of last season with a series of strong defensive performances. However, there was also a drastic drop in the number of goals scored, in part due to woeful finishing from the forwards.
A significantly changed back line means that the team's defensive strength is unknown and a repeat of that same defensive fortitude is not guaranteed, while an offensive scheme we have yet to see take shape gives us nothing but questions about the team's ability to score goals.
By the time the final whistle blows tonight, we will have a better understanding of what the answer to this question might be.
How will the new (and officially announced) signings fit in with the team?
Most of the Republic's currently announced signings have been defensive, with a pair of center backs in Mike da Fonte and Chris Christian, and a goalkeeper in Evan Newton. In fact, the only currently announced offensive minded player is rookie midfielder Matt LaGrassa.
Seeing as how most of the new guys are on the defensive end of things, the best way to judge how they fit into the team will be to watch how well the Republic deal with threats on their goal. On paper each of the new signings look pretty good, with Newton a finalist for last year's USL Goalkeeper of the Year, da Fonte a former team captain of RBNYII, and Christian having shown well against the Republic last season. However, as the Real Monarchs of 2015 or Cal FC of 2012 can tell you, soccer is not played on paper.
It is harder to tell if we'll get any answers for how LaGrassa will fit into the team, as it is only the first of many friendlies and it seems like the Elk Grove native will likely get his first run out against lower opposition. However, if he does get a chance tonight, it will help us see where he fits at this level, both in terms of level of play and position on the field. Keep in mind that Republic midfielder Octavio Guzman was a forward in college and fullback Emrah Klimenta was an attacker before putting on the Old Glory Red.
Will we get any insight into more signings or announcements to come?
With only 18 rostered players as of Friday, the biggest question on the minds of fans has concerned when we'll be seeing more player signings. The club has been promising some more announcements for quite a while, but have largely not delivered so far.
One apparent unnanounced player is Harry Williams, most recently of Cheltenham Town. Williams was first rumored to be joining the Republic in late January, but with Buckle openly discussing him in a recent Sacramento Bee article, it seems like the British genie is out of the bottle.
We might also see potential future signings in the form of trialists. In 2015, the Republic had trialists training with the team right up until the start of the season, with some like Richie Cardozo making appearances in preseason friendlies.
How will the team line up?
By nature of preseason being a time for experimentation and testing out different ideas, what we see against Colorado could very well not be what we see in the regular season. However, it will give us something to go on when discussing how the team should line up in the future.
Here are a few ways that we could see Sacramento line up tonight, keeping with the team's usual history of coming out in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
What are your thoughts on how tonight's game will go? Have any alternative lineup predictions? Let us know in the comments below.