USL soccer is finally returning to Bonney Field, everyone. This Saturday is the long awaited Sacramento Republic FC home opener. A team with a new look and a new feel will be taking the field tomorrow in front of what is guaranteed to be a fantastic crowd.
Luckily for us, this is actually the shortest we've ever had to wait for a Republic home opener. This year it comes in the second game of the season, but last year we had to wait until the fourth contest of the year and in 2014 an agonizing five matches went by before 20,000 plus Republic faithful shocked USL by selling out Hughes Stadium. Hopefully we'll be seeing something close to a 2015 result (3-1 win) than a 2014 one (2-1 loss).
Here are some things to think about ahead of tomorrow's match.
As ICS contributor George Shiel told us earlier this week, there is quite a bit of history between Sacramento Republic and Arizona United. They each came in to USL in 2014 and have faced each other many times.
However, although this will be the Republic's seventh match against Arizona, it will only be new midfield addition JJ Koval's second time facing them. Although they only played once, some AZU players might remember Koval from the great goal that he scored on them in a 2-1 win in 2014.
Getting Around the Wall of Woz
Last year's Republic regular season finale was the same matchup as tomorrow's home opener, with Sacramento welcoming AZU to Bonney Field. While the home team will be looking to get all three points from tomorrow's match, they were unable to do that last year. That was due in part to Sacramento's woeful finishing, but it was also due to Arizona's goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski standing on his head to deny the Republic every step of the way, a performance that earned him the praise of Republic goalkeeper Dominik Jaubek.
This time out the Republic will need to find a way around the man called Woz and put the ball in the back of the net. It will not be an easy task, as Woz is one of the top goalkeepers in all of USL — frankly he was robbed of a Goalkeeper of the Year nomination last season. Think the Chivas USA era Dan Kennedy of USL, consistently performing well to keep his team in games when they are underperforming.
This year, though, he might have more help. Although they lost their season opener to LA Galaxy II, AZU looked good in their midweek game against Seattle Sounders 2. A formidable keeper with a good team in front of him could wind up being a tougher challenge than the team that the Republic faced in last year's final regular season match.
Tomorrow's match is shaping up to be an early test of how well the Republic's offseason additions have changed their goalscoring ability. If they can get around the Wall of Woz and get a goal in the run of play, that would certainly bode well for the rest of the season.
Life Without (Some) Loans
Last week's victory over Seattle Sounders 2 was highlighted by some good performances by San Jose Earthquakes loanees Adam Jahn and Tommy Thompson. Unfortunately for Republic fans, it seems as though both Jahn and Thompson have returned to the blue and black mothership in San Jose to take part in the Earthquakes's match against DC United this weekend.
The return of the two Northern California natives to the Quakes now forces us to wonder who will replace them in the starting XI tomorrow. Thankfully for Republic fans, there are multiple options that Paul Buckle might go with.
Two players that could replace Jahn are Republic forward Mackenzie Pridham and Quakes forward Mark Sherrod, who was loaned to the Republic yesterday. Pridham seems to be the better long-term choice, as he will be with the Republic for the entire season, while Sherrod would likely fill the role of Adam Jahn replacement fairly well.
Pridham would also bring a different skill set to the Republic offense and allow us to see for ourselves what he can do against a USL team in a competitive match. Sherrod's MLS experience is certainly a plus, and he did play well when he was in Sacramento on loan last season.
Tommy Thompson's potential replacements are more varied. Max Alvarez, Octavio Guzman, and Agustin Cazarez are three players I see as possible TT replacements.
Alvarez would likely be the biggest stylistic change, as he is much more of a vertical player and fits into the role of a traditional winger or inverted winger. Guzman and Cazarez do not really fit that mold and would likely be less of a direct stylistic change from Thompson. Wide midfield is not the preferred position for either player, but both have played there in the past. Both would do fine in that spot, although Cazarez, a natural midfielder, would likely bring a bit more on the offensive side of the ball than Guzman, who was converted as a professional into the box to box type central midfielder he is now.
Home Sweet Home
As a final note, it is just going to be great to be heading back to Bonney Field again. It has been six months since the Republic played a competitive match at home and six weeks since their friendly against the San Jose Earthquakes. A road win in Seattle to start off the season is great, but the home opener is really what we have all been looking forward to.
Hopefully it will be a happy homecoming and the team will walk away with three points.
Here is how I would like to see the Republic line up against AZU on Saturday. On average last season I got about two positions wrong every time, so let's see how well my crystal ball is working this year.
Final Score: Sacramento Republic 2-1 Arizona United
What do you think is interesting about Saturday's matchup? Do you have a different preferred starting XI in mind? Let us know in the comments below.