The past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for defender Elliott Hord, the newest member of Sacramento Republic Football Club. In the span of 24 hours, he went from texting a former coach about the possibility of trying out for Republic FC a second time, to holding a trial session with the club and being told he was going to be signed on. Days later, the former UC Davis Men’s Soccer player was making his first start for the Capital City club in front of a sold-out crowd at Bonney Field.
While it may seem like Hord’s fortunes simply changed overnight, his journey to a spot on the Republic roster was much longer—and grueling—than the two-and-a-half hour drive from his hometown of Fresno to Sacramento.
Hord was first introduced to the beautiful game at a very young age while he was in kindergarten.
“I remember just hitting the ball off the wall and [staying after school] a lot,” Hord reminisced. “We had this after school program [where] up until sixth grade, I used to train after school and just play for two-to-three hours. There was a guy named Ozzie there who was a big soccer guy, too. He was our after-school counselor… and that’s how I really got into [the sport], just playing with him and kicking [the ball] around a lot.”
Hord’s passion for soccer grew from there, and while many fantasize of becoming a professional athlete one day, few people actually plan a way to achieve that dream, let alone act on it. Fortunately for Republic FC, Hord is one of those few that did. Up until the 8th grade, the Fresno native had played competitive soccer at his age level, but looking ahead to his crucial, formative years in high school, Hord saw the opportunity to forge a potential path to his goal.
“There was a team a year up in competitive soccer and [its] head coach at the time, Allen Fortune, was also the varsity coach at my high school,” explained Hord. [Bullard High School] is pretty well known for its soccer program so I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to try to play up [a level] on the [competitive] team, work my way up and maybe he’ll consider me as a freshman [for] the varsity team.’”
It was a bold, albeit risky, move on Hord’s part. Playing a level up meant competing with older and more experienced players, which came with the possibility of under-performing relative to his peers. On the other hand, if he performed well under those conditions, it would definitely get him noticed. Hord’s decision was soon vindicated and it played a significant role on the path his life would take.
“I did well on the competitive team and then once varsity came, I played and that’s when it kind of hit me that there was potential there,” recounted Hord. “I was going to have a chance to really do something big with it, whether it was college or professional.”
Hord helped lead the Bullard HS Knights to the CIF Central Section title in his sophomore year and went on to score 15 goals and post 12 assists in his senior year. After high school, Hord attended the University of California, Davis, playing 67 matches as a midfielder for the Aggies across four seasons. But it was after graduating from UC Davis that the real challenges began for him.
Back then, Republic FC was just starting to get a team together for its inaugural United Soccer League (USL) season. Hord attended the club’s tryouts, but did not make the cut after being told that they were looking for players with more experience.
Undeterred, Hord returned home to Fresno and started playing for the Fresno Fuego of the Premier Development League, a fourth-tier soccer league sponsored by the USL. In 2015, his performances with the Fuego earned him the opportunity to try out for another USL team, Oklahoma’s Tulsa Roughnecks FC, but despite making it to the final rounds of tryouts, Hord was cut yet again.
Hord did not let this latest rejection discourage him, however, and he was soon rewarded for persevering. After participating in a player combine held in Scandinavia in the summer of 2015, Hord signed with Yxhults IK, a Swedish club in the country’s “Division 3” league. Unfortunately, that experience would prove to be short-lived due to the club’s relegation.
“When I came in, we had seven points and were in last place,” explained Hord. “[W]e ended up going on a seven-game win streak and we had to win one of our last two games [to avoid relegation] and we lost [both]. We played the first and second-placed teams and then we got relegated.”
The relegation dropped Yxhults IK down to the next division and struck a blow to the team’s financial health. As a result, Hord’s contract was terminated and he returned back home to California and back to square one.
Hord resumed play with the Fuego for the 2016 PDL season and made another attempt at going pro again, this time in the form of a trial with Finn Harps of the Irish Premier League. However, the Irish league’s physical style of play proved to be unlike anything Hord had faced before and a return to Europe did not pan out.
It takes a certain degree of mental fortitude to deal with constant setbacks, even more so for a player like Hord, who just turned 25 this past August. At a certain point, time begins to be a soccer player’s worst enemy, especially for one still trying to break through to the professional ranks. Yet in light of everything, Hord didn’t lose hope or his confidence and he continued grinding toward his dream.
“I think I saw it in one of two ways: either you can stop or you can keep going and I saw that [the reaction of] 99% of the guys after their first year of trials was, ‘Eh, this is not for me,’” Hord explained. “I knew I was capable of getting there. I just needed time and I knew that with time and patience I’m going to get a chance.”
He credits two things for this line of thinking: his family and his coaches.
“The way [my parents] raised me was, you know, ‘Look, just continue to do it, believe in yourself, and don’t give up,’” said Hord. “Also, my coach at Davis, Dwayne [Shaffer], had a mentality ingrained in us of ‘just work.’ Work hard, train every day, and keep practicing.”
After 11 matches with the Fuego this season, Hord finally got the chance he coveted. In early August, Hord reached out to his former Fuego coach, Sean Lanigan, to see about the possibility of trying out with Republic FC for a second time. Lanigan had recently been in touch with the Sacramento club when they were in the process of signing Hord’s teammate at the Fuego, Christian Chaney. Lanigan agreed to help Hord out and contacted Republic Assistant Head Coach Adam Smith. Five minutes after Hord first reached out to Lanigan, he received an unexpected response.
“[Lanigan] calls me and says, ‘You won’t believe what just happened,’” recounted Hord. “I said, ‘What?’ and he responded, ’I just called Adam and he said, ‘I was just going to call you, Sean. Is Elliott still available?’”
Fifteen minutes later, Hord was packing his bags—Republic was giving him a week-long trial starting the following morning.
“I was like, ‘holy crap,’” said Hord of his reaction. “I literally went from 5 PM at my house to driving up to Davis within the next hour, got into Davis, stayed there for the night, came in the morning to Sacramento, had a great first session and they told me, ‘we want to sign you.’”
Understandably, Hord wasn’t celebrating just yet.
“I thought, ‘Okay, you know, obviously it’s good, but until you see the paper and actually sign the contract, it doesn’t really mean anything.’ I’ve experienced that a lot.”
But four days later, Hord got a call from Republic FC Director of Football Graham Smith with an offer to sign and letting him know he could possibly play in the next game.
“It’s weird how it just has to be the right timing,” Hord remarked about the experience.
Hord made his official Republic debut on August 24th in the 85th minute of their 1-0 win against Orange County Blues FC. Three days later, Hord started his first Republic match in front of 11,569 spectators at Bonney Field against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2.
Despite finally reaching his goal of signing a contract with Republic FC, Hord acknowledges the big impact certain people have had in helping him reach this point. Asked who the biggest influence in his development as a player has been, Hord took a long pause before answering, his mind scrolling through a list the length of a soccer pitch.
“I would say Allen Fortune,” Hord noted after some contemplation. “He was another person that really gave me that chance, that said, ‘Alright, I’ll let you try to prove yourself.’ He knew the game well and he’s one of my best friends. I talk to him as much as I can, I respect him, and I try to mimic the things he does because I know he’s very successful. If I had to narrow it down, it’d probably be him, but I mean, I’ve had a lot of great coaches.”
Hord has also benefited from the influence of Milton Blanco, a fellow Fresno native and former MLS, NASL, and USL player who Hord befriended and trains with during the offseason.
“Milton is by far the hardest working guy I’ve ever met and he’s played at the highest level so I think he’s been a good person to look up to as far as soccer-wise,” said Hord. “I try to do a lot of things on and off the field as him. He’s really taught me how to be mentally strong and like I said, we always work together.”
In Hord, Republic FC have found a player that’s the perfect embodiment of the club’s indomitable spirit and someone who is keenly aware that success on and off the field is not only the product of hard work, but also the support you receive from others.
Unsurprisingly, his advice for a player hoping to go pro one day reflects his own path.
“Patience,” Hord emphasized. “Sometimes it may not happen that year or that next year, but just keep [at it]. I would say train at least four or five days a week. You have to. You just have to train—work on the little things, work on your weaknesses, strengthen your strengths.”
“And have a reason,” he added. “Have a reason why you’re doing it. Don’t just go out there to do it. Remember and remind yourself that there’s always a ‘why.’ ‘Why am I doing this?’ There’s a reason for it. There should be a reason for it, not just to do it to do it. [Otherwise] you start losing sight of not just what you’re doing it for, but who you are.”
One thing’s certain: it’s pretty easy to see the reason why Republic brought him back.