While we wait for Major League Soccer (MLS) to potentially give Sacramento one of the greatest Christmas gifts of all-time (please MLS Board of Governors), the off-season finally ramped up last week when Republic FC announced that they had exercised player options on Danny Barrera, Luis Espino, Elliot Hord, Wilson Kneeshaw and Carlos Rodriguez.
It was welcomed news after what had been a suprisingly quiet off-season. It was so slow on the football side of operations, that the only player news was that Augstin Cazarez and Christian Chaney (Republic players from last season), had signed with United Soccer League (USL) expansion franchise Fresno Football Club.
This led to some speculation on social media that maybe the Republic’s efforts on the MLS expansion bid was pulling them away from focusing on the off-season. But that seems highly unlikely given Manager Paul Buckle’s presumed expanded role with Graham Smith’s departure and the fact that Buckle hasn’t been publicly involved in the MLS bid.
While securing Barrera, Espino, Hord, Kneeshaw and Rodriguez for the 2018 season is a terrific foundation to build on, clearly there is still plenty of work ahead. The return of Emrah Klimenta and James Kiffe seems unlikely but still a possibility until we hear differently. And of course, Adam Moffat will be back, as well as academy product Roberto Hategan.
Outside of bringing back Villyan Bijev, Chris Christian and Trevin Caesar, the one player I think the Republic should immediately re-sign is keeper Evan Newton.
As I previously mentioned on Twitter, I recently ran into Newton at a local event and we chatted briefly about his future with the Club. It’s my understanding that the Republic see him as part of the future, and that Newton would like nothing more to continue his playing career in Sacramento (a city he loves), yet a contract agreement has been elusive to date.
Ran into @NewtonEvan13 at an event last night. Such a great dude. We talked briefly about his desire to return to @SacRepublicFC — not just to continue his career, but to further his work in our community. How rad is that?— William Hodges (@william_hodges) December 8, 2017
In 26 appearances with the Republic last season, Newton logged 2370 minutes, had a 68.9 percent save success rate (good for top five in Western Conference), and booked seven clean sheets. Beyond the stats though, Newton provided a certain calmness and leadership to the position that eventually won him the starting role after a brief platoon with Dominik Jakubek.
Remember, the Republic brought in Newton in 2016 to be their everyday keeper. In that season, Newton’s 0.93 goals against per game ranked him in the top 10 of all USL goalkeepers. In 2015, he posted 10 shutouts, averaged 1.22 goals against per game (fourth best in the Western Conference) and was a USL Goalkeeper of the Year Finalist.
Maybe Newton’s 2017 numbers don’t stack up to past seasons, but I would argue that he put in his finest work with the Republic last season, particularly during a stretch early on when the team struggled mightily to find the back of the net. If you look back at those scores, it was Newton who often kept his team in those games by making outstanding saves.
And who can forget his brilliant performance in the first round of the 2017 playoffs when he made two huge saves in penalty kicks, which secured a first-round upset of top-seeded Real Monarchs? It must have been sweet redemption for Newton, who avenged a penalty kick shootout playoff loss the prior season.
But beyond his performance as a player, Newton has taken to Sacramento – whether it’s serving in the community or spending time with fans, he has been the consummate professional. I know in the end, results are what matter, but I believe that loyalty and being a tremendous representative for the Club and city matters too.
In the end, when you factor Newton’s performance on and off the pitch, he has done everything to earn a new contract. Let’s hope for both the city and Republic that he’s back wearing Old Glory Red — sorry, a bright colored goal keeper jersey — come spring.