Sacramento Republic FC officially announced yesterday that it had re-signed left back James Kiffe for the 2017 season, a development welcomed by many.
Until yesterday, Kiffe was one of the last key players from the 2016 season that there had been no news about, and there was a fair amount of speculation — as there has been every offseason since he joined the team in 2014 — that the Republic had lost him to the call of MLS. With yesterday’s announcement, center back Chris Christian is the only unknown.
Republic Head Coach Paul Buckle sounded extremely happy with Kiffe’s re-signing in the team’s official press release.
“I am really pleased that we have been able to bring James back for this season. I feel that last season he was a very important part of the team. He had his best season both defending and attacking last year and I believe there is more to come from him.”
Buckle’s description of Kiffe as an important part of the team is spot on with what many in the Republic fan base feel. After all, Kiffe was voted the team’s MVP in our own post-season poll, beating out Chris Christian and Danny Barrera.
While Kiffe’s re-signing in itself is cause for celebration, the fact that it has given the Republic its strongest set of fullbacks ever is also significant.
Although the Republic has always had strong fullbacks, which will happen when you have James Kiffe and Emrah Klimenta starting, it has not ever really had depth there. There has never been a go-to replacement for either of them, as you can see by looking back at who played where in past seasons.
In 2014 there was a huge rotating cast of characters in both fullback spots before the Kiffe-Klimenta partnership got set up. The left back spot was especially wild.
Nemanja Vukovic played 10 games as a left back before moving to center back. Jack Avesyan, the only player I’ve ever seen be subbed on and then off in the space of 10 minutes, played 6 games. Chad Bartlome, a natural forward, and James Kiffe himself both played 5. Emrah Klimenta played 3 while Alvas Powell was in town on loan from Portland. Even defensive midfielder George Fochive played a game there.
Right back was less rotated, in large part because Klimenta was the starter there from day one. He played 23 games and Christian Gonzalez, Alvas Powell, and James Kiffe covered the other 8.
2015 had significantly less rotation.
Of the 28 games that season, Emrah Klimenta started 26 at right back. Backup fullback Matthias Bonvehi started just a single game that year, his only league appearance of the season.
On the left side, Kiffe started 21 games and natural midfielder Agustin Cazare filled in for the rest.
Finally, last season (aka The Year of James Kiffe) saw barely any rotation at left back, with Kiffe starting in all but 2 games.
Right back, however was a different story. After Klimenta went down for the season after 14 games, the remaining 16 were played by six different players: Elliott Hord (4 games), Kip Colvey (4), Mike da Fonte (2), Jeremy Hall (2), Octavio Guzman, and (2) Joaquin Rivas (1).
While it is really early to say this, chances are that the 2017 season will not look like that. For the first time in the Republic’s history, the team has four fullbacks on its roster: James Kiffe, Emrah Klimenta, Enrique Montano, and Elliott Hord.
Kiffe and Klimenta are known quantities and still the likely starters on day one (provided they are healthy). Both are solid defenders, good in one-on-one situations, and great going forward.
However, that is not to say that Montano and Hord are bad players. Both of them have the ability to be starters, which is what makes this situation so unique. At no other time in the Republic’s history has the team had four arguably-starting-quality fullbacks at its disposal.
To make things better, the players split evenly along the back line. Kiffe and Montano are left footed, while Klimenta and Hord operate on the right.
I have no idea what the 2017 season will bring for the Republic, but I am hopeful that it will be an improvement upon 2016. A significant part of what gives me that hope is the fact that with Kiffe’s re-signing, the Republic are stacked at fullback.
What are your thoughts on the Republic’s fullback situation? Sound off in the comments below!