Sacramento Republic FC is back in action tomorrow, facing off against Orange County Blues FC for the fourth and final time in the 2016 regular season. The Republic will try to combine their solid recent form with the home field advantage of Bonney Field in order to extend their lead over the rest of the Western Conference.
Last Time Out
The last time that Republic and OC Blues faced off against one another was just a little over a week ago on Wednesday, August 24th, right in the middle of a stretch of three games in seven days. Republic were able to take away a 1-0 win from Anteater Stadium, thanks in large part to an incredible individual goal from Cameron Iwasa.
The 76th minute goal was the high point in a match that was largely bereft of solid goal scoring opportunities.
Iwasa’s game winning goal was nearly erased by an OC Blues equalizer in stoppage time, but the goalkeeping duo Goal Post and Evan Newton made a save each to deny the home team a goal and keep the the three points.
Setting the Table
Although both the Republic and Blues are solidly in the race for the playoffs, the two teams are on opposite sides of that race. Republic FC are currently sitting pretty at the top of the Western Conference standings with 44 points from 26 games, while Orange County Blues are on the playoff bubble in eighth place with 34 points from 26 games.
Both teams are coming into tomorrow’s match needing three points. Republic needs a win to extend their points lead over the rest of the top four Western Conference teams, who are all within three points of the top spot with a game in hand. If Republic can pull out the win tomorrow, they will help to mitigate the advantage that the teams below them have due to games in hand and continue their march toward their projected first place finish.
OC Blues, on the other hand, need a win tomorrow to ensure their playoff dreams stay alive. If they do not get the full three points against Republic tomorrow, it is likely that they will lose the final playoff spot to San Antonio FC, who are tied with them on points but have a game in hand and an easier schedule.
Nearly all on-paper factors favor the Republic tomorrow. They are in a much better spot in the standings, they score more, concede less, and have a much better recent form. They are also playing at home, where they have the massive Bonney Field crowd on their side.
However, the Blues are more than capable of stealing away three points if given the opportunity, as they proved in a 1-0 win at Bonney Field earlier this season. They have the talent to take advantage of defensive mistakes and the free kick maestro, Didier Crettenand, who can wreck havoc in dead ball situations.
Carlton Cole II. This Time, Things Actually Happen.
Carlton Cole made his Republic debut last weekend against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, coming on in the 77th minute. It was an exciting time for Republic fans because they finally got to see the club’s most high profile signing ever finally step on the field.
However, they did not get to see him do all that much, largely due to the fact that he hardly had much time in which to do anything. According to Republic head coach Paul Buckle, Cole’s appearance as a late substitute was due to him not being fully match fit yet. As Cole gets closer to full match fitness, we will likely see his substitute appearances grow longer, until he is eventually able to take the starting spot that he seems destined for.
With another week of training in the bag, Cole will hopefully be closer to full match fitness and hopefully be given more time to make an impact on the field than just the measly 13 minutes he got last weekend. Everything points to Cole being an impact player for the Republic. He just needs enough time to actually make an impact. Hopefully he gets that time against OC Blues tomorrow.
Players to Watch
Cameron Iwasa — One cannot watch a Republic game without keeping an eye out for the team’s leading goal scorer. Now is an especially important time to be watching him, because if he scores again tomorrow, it will be his record-setting 12th goal of the season.
Ivan Mirković — Defensive midfielders are not usually the most exciting players to watch, and Mirković is certainly not the exception. However, this will be the second time that the former Republic fan favorite will return to Bonney Field as a member of the Blues. That history might make for an interesting moment or two.
Didier Crettenand — Simply put, Crettenand is dangerous. If the Republic foul any Blues player around the penalty area, this will be the man standing over the ensuing free kick. Crettenand is one of the USL’s better free kick specialists and is deadly given the right opportunity.
Danny Barrera — After a rough patch early in the season, the Republic captain has been doing very well and has really earned the armband he was given early in the year. Look for him to be the creative force behind many Republic chances tomorrow.
What do you think will happen tomorrow? Will Republic walk away with a much needed three points? Will Carlton Cole have an actually significant amount of time on the field? Sound off in the comments below!