The Herd is coming to Sacramento.
Republic FC confirmed yesterday what we’ve all known since last week: Las Chivas are coming to town on October 5th.
This will be Republic’s third international friendly against a Liga MX side, having previously played Guadalajara-based Atlas FC (Chivas’ cross-town rivals) twice during the past two years. Both times ended in the Mexican club’s favor, with Republic losing 2-1 on July 6, 2014 and then 4-1 on July 8, 2015.
In an official statement from the Indomitable Club, Head Coach Paul Buckle underscored the opportunity for Republic’s players to play against quality opposition:
To play a club the size of Chivas is always an attraction to the players, club and the sport. We are always interested in playing top teams and we’ve demonstrated this by adding an iconic club such as Chivas to our growing list of international opponents. This will be an excellent chance for our squad to get top-level minutes against some of the best in the world.
However, when rumors of the then-potential matchup first surfaced, fans were divided in their views toward the friendly. Many pointed to the fact that Republic could be in the middle of a playoff run at the time and it would add unnecessary physical exertion that could place the team at a disadvantage. The corollary to that is the likelihood of the game’s quality being diluted as a result, with Republic and Guadalajara possibly resting key players (Chivas will also be in the middle of the Apertura 2016 season and hoping to make a playoff run of its own).
Despite these valid points against the match, the net result of hosting an opponent like Chivas is positive and here’s why:
1. Republic gets to play one of the most storied clubs in world football.
With 110 years of history and 11 first division championships, Club Deportivo Guadalajara (nicknamed ‘Las Chivas’) is an historic institution in Mexican soccer and is easily the country’s most popular team. The Goats were one of the ten founding members of the Mexican first division—now known as Liga MX—and have never been relegated since. They are also the only Mexican club to exclusively field Mexican players, a tradition dating back to the team’s formation in 1906 that has been a huge factor not only in the popularity of the club (~40 million global fans at one point), but also the success of the Mexican national team throughout the years. While it may not seem like it based on our proximity to our southern neighbors, this matchup is equivalent to an EPL side coming into town; in other words, it’s a great opportunity—not only for local Chivas fans, but also Republic fans and fans of the sport in general— to see an historic club play that they may not otherwise be able to.
2. It helps Sacramento’s bid to bring MLS to the city.
Think the top brass at MLS’s New York City headquarters won’t be paying attention to this game? Think again. An international friendly against a big club like Chivas is another litmus test for market viability in Sacramento. With Republic’s amazing following and the city’s large Latino population, this game is practically expected to be a sell-out in the eyes of MLS execs. If it’s not, it may impact the good image we have going with the league. Yes, you and I and the whole city know we’re ready and #BuiltForMLS, but for the league, there’s no such thing as too much proof. Plus, if we want an MLS team in Sacramento, we need to accept what comes with it—the San Jose Earthquakes, for example, have a September 3rd friendly against Pachuca even though they’re in the midst of chasing a spot in the playoffs.
3. It’s an opportunity for Republic’s fringe players to make a case for themselves.
The possibility that some of Republic’s starters may be rested is not necessarily a bad thing. Being a friendly, the match is meaningless from an official record perspective, so it would make sense to rest some players with the playoffs in mind (IF we make it that far, which is no guarantee either). But it also means that a great performance against Chvas from a non-starter could see him get a second look from Buckle in the pivotal moments of the playoffs (and, it stands to reason, next season).
4. Sacramento pride.
Yes, it’s a friendly. But even so, a first-division side like Chivas is expected to beat a third-division team (no disrespect to Republic or the USL), like they did when Los Rojiblancos played OKC Energy to a 1-0 victory this past June. A Republic win would come with bragging rights, not just over Chivas, but also a fellow USL side, and would once again demonstrate the quality in Sacramento.
5. It will engage new fans.
Sacramento has a sizable Latino population (22.7% is Latino, according to the Census Bureau), but how much of it are Republic fans? Chivas is by far the most popular team in Mexico, and therefore, also the second most-hated club behind their archrivals, Club America. That means the fans who come out to this game (Latino or otherwise) will either be 1) Republic fans, 2) Republic and Chivas fans, 3) Chivas fans, 4) anti-Chivas fans, or 5) impartial soccer fans. Hosting this game will help Republic engage the latter three groups, and hopefully, add to its passionate fan base.
6. Mo’ money.
As much as we like to romanticize the sport, soccer is a business. It’s a business that’s highly entertaining and can do incredible good for a community, but at the end of the day, every team needs financial muscle to produce incredible experiences for its fans, whether it is through stadium amenities, season-ticket-holder perks, or the most important thing, the quality you see on the pitch each week. These kinds of games help raise the funds that makes those things possible.
Regardless of the outcome on October 5th, this friendly is a good thing for Republic and Sacramento. But if you still think otherwise, let us know in the comments below: