All things considered, the Republic's loss to the Colorado Rapids was not really all that bad. Sure the Rapids are one of the worst teams in MLS, but they're still a team in the top level of US Soccer and to come close to shutting them out is not something to scoff at.
In the preview for last night's match, I said that what we learned from the game would be more important than the result itself, something that is generally true for all preseason games. Although the quality of play overall was certainly at preseason levels, there are still some impressions we can take from yesterday's match to give us a better idea of what the future has in store.
Let's take a look at the questions I asked yesterday and see what answers we got.
How will the Republic play in Paul Buckle's first full season as Head Coach?
With Saturday's game being a preseason friendly and therefore a time for experimentation, this was never going to be fully answered by the team's performance. However, there are still bits of evidence to look at.
The strength of the defense was something that was particularly nice to see. Although they were going up against a generally low scoring MLS team, the fact that the Sacramento defense restricted chances mostly to set pieces and very nearly got the shut out is not a small accomplishment. The back four was generally strong in the challenge, did not make many glaring mistakes, and did a good job overall despite having not played together in a game situation.
Coach Buckle also thought the defense performed well, saying after the match that "Our organization was good, with the limited number of days we've had to work. Our organization will always be good. If teams are going to get through us they're going to have to do something special."
The future of the offense is less clear than that of the defense after Saturday's game, although it is likely that what we saw in the second half will be more common than the lackluster first 45 minutes. The combination of new players with new spots in a new scheme, combined with the rust that accumulates after a long offseason, the first half was largely forgettable on the offensive end.
In the second half things thankfully picked up, in part due to Danny Barrera's more significant involvement in the proceedings. The talented midfielder is still viewed by many as an important offensive contributor to the Republic, and any time that he's doing well and is involved, chances are the team will do well too.
How will the new (and officially announced) signings fit in with the team?
With most of the officially announced signings being defensive, the fact that the defense put in a fairly strong showing bodes well for the future of the new signings.
Although Evan Newton did not have to do much yesterday, only registering a pair of saves, he looked comfortable in distribution and played well enough.
Mike Da Fonte and Chris Christian both put in solid showings as well, with Christian even moonlighting at left back when Derek Foran subbed into the game. Neither newcomer made many glaring mistakes and generally performed well in their debut.
The one non-defensive rostered newcomer, Matt LaGrassa, also made his debut, putting in a 36 minute shift. Although he did not take the game over after being subbed on, he held his own during his time on the field.
Will we get any insight into more signings or announcements to come?
This is probably the question we got the most answers too, with the names of multiple trialists finally coming to light. In addition to Harry Williams, who has not yet had an announcement but seems to have one coming soon, the Republic had Alex Risdale, Mackenzie Pridham, Alex Mangels, Diego Lopez, Nabilai Kibunguchy, and Joe Restani.
Williams was not too impressive during his time on the field, although to be fair he was on the field during the offensively weak first half. He'll need to play more minutes before a better judgement of his ability to contribute in Sacramento can be made. Thankfully for us the Republic have a fairly busy preseason schedule.
Pridham also did fairly well, scoring a goal that was unfortunately called offside and generally being a threat.
How will the team line up?
If the match against the Rapids is any indication, it seems as though the 4-4-1-1 may be here to stay. Buckle ran his team in both the first and second halves in that familiar formation. There is, of course, more games in the preseason and more time to experiment with formation, but for now it appears that the 4-4-1-1 is going to be sticking around Sacramento for a while longer.
So there you have it. We learned a little from the Rapids match, but there needs to be more games played before we can really get an idea of what the team will be like come late March and early April. While the Rapids were certainly big, MLS caliber, competition for the Republic, the real test of how far the team has come thus far will come next Saturday when they host the San Jose Earthquakes. Kickoff for that match is 5p. Be sure to watch for all the coverage of that match in the coming week here on ICS.