For the third time in their three year existence, Sacramento Republic FC will host the Western Conference quarterfinals playoff match at Bonney Field. The Republic will face their SoCal rivals Orange County Blues FC for the fifth time this season, having played them to a 2-1-1 record during the regular season. For the first time in club history, the Republic have placed first in the USL Western Conference and secured home field advantage through the conference finals.
Even though this match is a first vs eighth seed affair, don’t expect the OC Blues to be a pushover. The matches between these two clubs are usually close and hard-fought. Considering that this year the victories from both sides have only been by a one goal margin, we should expect more of the same tomorrow. Expect the referee’s arm to be exhausted after this match with all the fouls he will call and yellow cards he will most likely have to pull. Whichever team can keep their cool will most likely move on to the second round.
The Republic have their work cut out for them tomorrow and they will need to follow these keys to be successful:
Keep a Level Head
The OC Blues have a knack for knocking the Republic off their game plan and causing some players to get in trouble with the referee. Much like that other SoCal team, LA Galaxy II, the OC Blues can get the Quails’s feathers all ruffled and cause them to lose focus.
For example, during the April 30th match against the Blues, the Republic picked up four yellow cards a 0-1 loss at home. Their second meeting of the season on July 10th didn’t fare much better. The Republic picked up five yellows, two of which went to defender Mike da Fonte, who received a red card and an ejection, resulting in a 3-3 tie.
During the last two matches between these clubs (August 24th and September 3rd), the Republic kept their cool and only received one yellow card in each match. The Republic won both matches and were dominant on the pitch.
Tomorrow, the Blues will be aggressive and try to get the Republic to lose their heads and commit fouls in and around the penalty area. Playing for the penalty has often been the Blues game plan and it has succeeded in getting them into the playoffs. The Republic’s focus should be on the play-at-hand and not retaliation. The Quails play much better when not getting heated and they will need to avoid the penalty trap from the Blues.
Mistake Free Defending
The Republic defense has had a difficult time stopping the Blues attack this season and has given up five goals in their four matches. The Blues are going to come after the Republic defense and look for the close free kick or the penalty in the box. The Blues have been spectacular with set pieces and penalty kicks, especially Midfielder Didier Crettenand who has scored twice on the Republic. In fact, Crettenand has scored eight goals this season on either a free kick or penalty.
The Blues will test the Republic defense probably more than any other team they may face in the Western Conference playoffs. The Republic must avoid the penalty and quickly send the ball up to the midfield. The Republic play best when they dominate possession, limit the opposing attack from getting too far up-field and don’t get burned with costly mistakes in one-on-one situations. It all starts with the defense limiting their mistakes and playing clean.
Attack and Pressure
Fortunately, the Blues defense has struggled this season and that could bode well for the Republic. The Republic offense has a real good opportunity to find the back of the net and blow the match wide open. The Blues have a -2 goal differential coming into the playoffs and it would be in the Republic’s best interest to score early before the Blues can frustrate them.
To counter the Blues’s “look-for-a-penalty” style of play, the Republic will need to pressure their back line and create a barrage of shots-on-goal. Though it may be unusual for such a new player to get their first start in a playoff quarterfinal match, forward Wilson Kneeshaw could keep the Blues defense on their on their heels early on. Kneeshaw, along with the Republic’s new single season scoring record holder, Cameron Iwasa, could be the deadly combo that the team has been looking for all season.
The Republic will be tested tomorrow when the Blues roll into town and it will take some level heads to come away with a victory. Please let us know what you think are the keys to success in the comments below.