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Match Preview: Sacramento Republic vs Orange County Blues

Republic head to Irvine for a midweek game and a chance at a hugely important three points.

Photo Gallery: Sacramento Republic vs Orange County Blues Alex Leguizamo/Indomitable City Soccer

After soundly beating Portland Timbers 2 last Saturday at Bonney Field, Sacramento Republic FC are back in action and back on the road tomorrow against Orange County Blues at Anteater Stadium in Irvine. Tomorrow’s game will be the third time the two teams have faced off this season and the second at Anteater Stadium. It is also the Republic’s fourth and final midweek game of the season.

Last Time Out

The last time Republic and OCB faced each other was a dramatic 3-3 draw on July 10th at Anteater Stadium in the midst of a rough month for the Quails. Until the recent 4-3 goalfest in Saint Louis, it was the highest-scoring Republic game of the season and tied for the highest-scoring game of Paul Buckle’s tenure as head coach.

The match also cemented Mike da Fonte’s status as a goal-scoring center back and priority set piece target with one of the best goals of the season.

The aforementioned da Fonte goal was the first of the match, coming in the 21st minute. Danny Barrera served in a great ball to the back post and da Fonte’s tremendous first-time shot gave Republic an early lead.

That lead only lasted as long as the 51st minute, when Didier Crettenand equalized on a penalty kick. The Blues then took the lead in the 72nd minute thanks to a goal from Trevin Caesar at the back post.

Republic found an equalizer of their own a short while later when Danny Barrera picked out a wide open Cameron Iwasa on a 79th minute corner kick.

That scoreline disappeared as soon as it arrived, however, thanks to a well-struck Crettenand free kick that put OCB back in the lead in the 81st minute.

Then, in the 83rd minute, Max Alvarez and Mackenzie Pridham joined in the fun, combining for the Republic’s second equalizer of the game.

In short: it was a wild second half.

Setting the Table

Last week, Republic were almost as far away from their opponents in the Western Conference Standings as possible. This week it is a bit closer.

Orange County Blues currently sit in seventh place in the Western Conference, six points out of first place with one more game played than any other team.

OCB are the highest ranked team with a negative goal differential (-5 for those curious but unwilling to click the above link). They have a fairly average offense and have scored nearly the same number of goals as the Republic. Where OCB truly suffers is in their defense. They have conceded 37 goals in 25 games this season, or 1.48 goals conceded per game. That is only slightly better than Timbers 2 (37 conceded in 24 games) and Seattle Sounders 2 (40 conceded in 24) and really only looks good in comparison to the Tulsa Roughnecks defense that routinely cosplays as a wet paper bag (50 conceded in 24 games. Over 2 goals conceded per game!).

Republic, on the other hand, are sitting pretty at the top of the Western Conference with 40 points in 24 games. They may not be up there for long, however, because there are four teams hot on their heels. Whitecaps 2 are only in second due to goal differential, Rio Grande Valley FC are only one point away with a significantly better goal differential (18 to Republic’s 10), and Colorado Springs Switchbacks and OKC Energy are both three points away — OKC with two games in hand.

A win against OC Blues would go a long way to keeping the Republic at or within striking distance of the top spot.

Iwasa Within Striking Distance

Sacramento native Cameron Iwasa has been one of the best stories to come out of this Republic season. After an ok rookie season, he has exploded onto the scene and has seemingly become the reliable goalscorer that Republic has been looking for.

After a 2015 season in which he scored only a single goal in USL competition, Iwasa has scored 10 in 24 games for an average of 0.42 goals per game. That double-digit total makes him the third player to ever score 10 or more goals for the Republic in a single season, the others being Rodrigo Lopez, who scored 10 in both 2014 and 2015, and Thomas Stewart, who scored 11 in 2014. Not bad company for a 23 year old forward to be in during his second year as a professional.

However, the story does not need to stop at Iwasa just simply joining Lopez and Stewart. He also has a chance to write his name into the Republic recordbook for the second time this season by surpassing Stewart’s record of 11 goals scored in a single season. Iwasa has already supplanted Stewart as the player to score the fastest goal in Republic history, now he has six games left to either match or surpass this new record.

He gets his first chance tomorrow against Orange County Blues down in Irvine.

Kickoff is at 7:30pm PT and will, as always, be streamed live on YouTube.

What are your predictions for tomorrow’s game? Think Iwasa will match or even surpass Stewart’s record? Can Republic stave off the challengers and stay at the top of the table? Sound off in the comments below!