Last Friday's season opener was the first time in club history that Sacramento Republic have started out a USL season with all three points from their first game. Although it was not a particularly beautiful performance, it was a solid start to the season and the Buckle Era.
Strap in, here are three things we learned from last Friday's season opening win over Seattle Sounders 2.
1. Tommy Thompson and Adam Jahn are good at soccer
One of the biggest stories heading into Friday's match was that Tommy Thompson and Adam Jahn - both players with local ties - were going to be available for Sacramento on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes. Most Sacramento area fans are likely familiar with the two players, as they have featured for the Republic quite a few times in the last two years. Jahn was a big part of the team's 2014 success, and the TT hype train has stopped in Sacramento a few times in the past two seasons.
On Friday, both Thompson and Jahn were among the top performers of the day. Thompson was as skillful as ever and sometimes looked a class above the rest of the competition. Jahn provided good hold up play, the likes of which the Republic haven't had since he was last here in 2014. Both players displayed a good first touch, Jahn especially so for a big man.
If Thompson sticks around, which it isn't looking like he will, he has the skill to be the USL MVP. His talent is evident, as is the fact that he has grown as a player since 2014. If Jahn sticks around, which again is not looking likely, he can provide some hold up play and quality passing up top that could be very useful for the Republic this season.
However, if they leave, all is not lost.
As Dan points out, the departure of the loanees opens doors for other players like Mackenzie Pridham or Max Alvarez to show (or in Alvarez's case, remind) Sacramento fans what they can do.
2. This is a different Republic team
With all the changes that have happened over the past year, the fact that this Sacramento Republic team is different should not be all that surprising. However, yesterday we saw concrete proof that things on the field look to be different this year. The two things that stood out to me the most were the speed and directness of play, and the utilization of high pressure.
The Republic played with a lot more urgency and directness against S2 than we have seen them utilize against opponents in the past. While they were no tiki taka team under Preki, there was a noticeable increase in the directness of play last Friday. Rather than consolidate possession, move the ball around the back, and progress slowly as they may have done in the past, more often than not the team went directly at the S2 goal.
That sort of play works well when you have a player like Jahn who can hold the ball up and make some quality passes with his back to goal. Whether or not it will work as well without him will be seen in the Jahn-less games that are sure to come this year.
What is clear at the moment is that the Republic played significantly more directly in this season opener than in past years, and seemed to be moving the ball vertically much quicker. The ball movement occurred through long balls out of the back, quick combinations in the center of the field, and through bypassing opponents on the dribble.
In addition to being more direct in their ball movement, Sacramento also utilized high pressure fairly often against S2. There were many occasions when the Republic pushed much of the midfield way up the field trying to win the ball deep in S2's own half, something that we have not seen much of in previous seasons.
Pushing the midfield up to exert pressure and force turnovers often left it up to the center backs, Foran and Christian, to step up to intercept any pass that got through the pressure. That tactic can work well, but it can also backfire and make the team vulnerable to counter attacks. If a center back misses that crucial interception, as when Foran did in the 42nd minute, it causes trouble.
In that particular situation he was bypassed by a quick headed pass, which set off a counter attack where the defense had to scramble and S2 seemed to have the advantage. That advantage led to a one-on-one confrontation between James Kiffe and an S2 attacker that then led to a shot from inside the box. The shot wasn't a great one and was saved by Jakubek, but you still don't want to be giving up shots there.
3. Ugly wins are still wins
Friday's match was not the finest display of soccer that a Republic team has ever put on. The passing was a bit sloppy and there were occasional troublesome miscommunications, both things that can be chalked up to some extent as issues derived from rustiness and the fact that it was the first game of the season.
However, despite all that the team came out of Friday's match with a win, their first ever season opener win. Those three points count just as much whether they came from a sloppy 1-0 away win or from a beautifully crafted multi-goal victory. While I would much rather prefer the latter, a sloppy or ugly win counts just as much as a beautiful one and results on the road like Friday's are what championships are built of.
What are your thoughts on the Republic's season opening win? Let us know in the comments below.