Led by a brilliant Cameron Iwasa, Republic extended their USL unbeaten streak to 7 games with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Rio Grande Valley F.C. The win sees the Indomitable Club leap to second place in the Western Conference.
Saturday night’s matchup, the first ever between the two teams, promised to be a battle of contrasting strengths: the Toros’ well-oiled offense versus one of the best defenses in the league. Only a point separated the two teams in the Western Conference standings and the parity between the two sides showed throughout the match.
In an atypical start for Republic, Iwasa, who started the match alongside Adam Jahn in Republic’s attack, opened the scoring after 38 seconds in what was the fastest goal in the team’s history. The Sacramento native, who was easily Republic’s MVP of the night, received a pass from Barrera in the center of the field and took on three Toros players before unleashing a powerful, left-footed shot from outside the box that hit off the right bar and into the net.
The goal emboldened Iwasa and he became the focal point of Republic’s attack throughout the game, linking well with his teammates and leading the home side’s dominance in the opening quarter hour.
However, despite Republic’s early momentum, RGVFC took advantage of a lapse in concentration to equalize in the 14th minute. Memo Rodriguez was allowed to dribble unmarked into the box from the right wing and easily displaced a flat-footed Octavio Guzman before firing a left-footed shot that beat Jakubek on his far post.
The equalizer allowed the Toros to get into the game, which created an entertaining, back-and-forth dynamic. Three minutes after tying the score, Toros captain Kevin Garcia headed a free kick over the bar. Republic’s Adam Jahn responded with a similar header a few minutes later.
Jahn, who is on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes, was also a threat throughout the night, pairing well with Iwasa and often fielding piercing through balls that Republic was unable to capitalize on. In the 24th minute, Jahn sent Kiffe through one-on-one with Callum Irving, but the Rio Grande Valley keeper was well positioned to block the shot.
In the 33rd minute, Republic squandered two back-to-back chances to get back on top on the scoreboard. First, Jahn forced a turnover in the Toros box, but Iwasa was unable to get on the end of his low, incisive cross thanks to a fingertip touch on the ball from the visiting keeper. Then, the resulting corner led to a scramble in the box, which Republic defender Mike Da Fonte jumped on, but his shot sailed wide. Republic had one more chance to go up right before halftime when Iwasa headed a Barrera corner kick into the left post.
Iwasa was not to be denied his second goal, however. A surging run from Guzman down the left flank led to a Republic corner in the 53rd minute. Once again, Republic’s captain stepped up to take it, and once again, he connected with Iwasa, who scored the club’s first corner kick goal of the 2016 season.
The go-ahead goal put Republic firmly in the driver’s seat and Toros struggled to get back into the match. Yet, just as they did earlier in the game, Republic allowed another equalizer out of the blue.
In the 71st minute, RGVFC substitute Eric Bird received a long throw-in pass in the box, dribbled past two Republic defenders and unleashed a curling shot into the back of the net.
The goal flipped the momentum in RGVFC’s favor, but Republic continued to fight back and with a little bit of luck, found the winning goal in the 87th minute through Emrah Klimenta.
The Montenegro international received the ball from Iwasa on the right wing and whipped in a dipping cross straight to Irving’s near post. The Toros shotstopper was unable to contain the bounce and bumbled the ball into the net, handing the game to Republic.
The victory places Republic second in the Western Conference with 24 points, one short of leaders Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. The capital city club will next face Arizona United SC away on June 25th.