If you woke up this morning to the hard realization that Sacramento Beer Week has officially come and gone, or if you’re still feeling super cranky and cheated out of an hour of sleep, just know that you’re not alone. But all is not bad, right Republic FC fans? We’re less than two weeks away now from the start of the 2017 regular season!
And with the season rapidly approaching, I am excited to announce a brand new segment on Indomitable City Soccer (ICS) -- Extra Time with Buckle.
Extra Time with Buckle will likely morph throughout the season, but my overarching goal for the segment is to bring ICS readers a unique and up close view into all things Republic FC from the manager himself, Paul Buckle. This one-on-one interview will dive into soccer on and off the pitch, and perhaps topics not even related to soccer. My hope is that it’s fun and something you’ll come back for.
So without further ado, I bring you the first of what I hope is many Extra Time with Buckle segments with the man behind Republic FC -- Paul Buckle:
With several weeks of training under your belt, and the weather finally cooperating so that you can actually play a couple friendlies, how would you assess where the Club is at currently?
Well, it's been a strange preseason, actually. It started fantastically well where we got the players back and the majority of my targets where in. We had Sammy Ochoa training with us, which we obviously couldn't release, so we headed to Mexico and it was great.
Then within a week, I lose Carlos Rodriguez with a broken ankle, and there are big things moving with Mike da Fonte as well, which I can't talk about at the moment, but they're positive things. So I lose two center backs plus Chris Christian who we allowed to go explore [opportunities] in Portugal [as] he wanted to go and play in Europe, which as you know is our policy. But to lose all of those players in a week is tough. It's been sort of back to the drawing board trying to identify center backs. That's never a good thing this close to the start of the season.
I am pleased with the 60 minutes with San Jose, [considering] it was 1-1 before we made maybe 10 changes. I thought we showed up really well against Cincinnati and was very happy with what we did. Obviously, we didn't see the game out, but those are things I can work on. I was pleased with the the amount of times we got to their goal.
Talk a little more about the loss of Carlos Rodriguez. It seems like he was someone you and the Club were counting on to play big minutes this season. How big of a blow was it losing him?
Massive. First of all, for the lad to break his ankle the way he did you know was innocuous, [it] was nothing in the challenge. We had Carlos in last year from CESIFUT Academy (Mexico)...we went over there as you know, and identified him, and he was a perfect backup for De Fonte and Christian. There was transparency with CESIFUT that we would develop him, and Carlos showed us last year when he came in what a good player he was going to be for us. So the plan was always to leave a pathway for him this season to get even more games. He's very good on the ball, a very good competitor, and for it to end like it did for a number of months is just a big blow for us. He was the first team player that we lost and is hard to replace...especially at this time. We've been looking around now of what we can do, to include calling up Clubs to see if they have any center backs that we can loan and fill the void.
I know you mentioned after the Cincinnati game that you were planning to work out a couple of players to shore up the center back position. Any new development? You also joked that you were hiding the return ticket for Alex Davey. Any news on that front?
Well, he hasn't found it yet. I said that tongue-in-cheek, but I meant it. I've been very pleased with what I've seen of Alex. He's come over to have a look at us for a couple of weeks and for us to look at him. I've followed his career in the U.K. at Chelsea. He's been at Chelsea for 12 years, so he's an incredible pedigree. The levels Alex has been working at is top level. It's very hard to break in at that level, so when we saw him, he's exactly what we're looking for. He's someone we feel we can work with to improve as we've done with younger players, and I'm hopeful now that we can get him. We're going to go all out to try and get him, because one, we need a center back now...we need two actually. But also after working with him and seeing him in action, I think he would be a brilliant addition to the squad.
Considering the severity of Emrah Klimenta's injury last season, what is the plan for him early on? Will he be eased back into play? Does the performance of Elliot Hord last season make it easier for you to bring him back slowly?
To answer the back end of that question, I think Elliot Hord has lessened the blow really, because I wasn't expecting Elliot from the outset to do what he's done... and he's done brilliant really. To come in and replace Emrah... that's a big ask from someone. So he's done brilliant and he deserves a lot of credit for the way he's played, the way he's fit in... he's actually been very impressive. I'm pleased with him, and I think it's safe to say at the moment he's got the shirt. He knows that and I think Emrah would know that.
And with Emrah, it's now a case of us not being silly with him in terms of expecting too much. Emrah would be expecting everything of himself and me, because that's the way Emrah is, but he's been out a long time. There's no rush, no race now, and we'll just see week-by-week. For now, he's up to playing 45 minutes and we'll just see how it goes. But I think he is someone that will really want to speed that process up. It's going to be good competition in that area when Emrah is fully fit, which is something I've tried to get to in every position on this squad.
2017 marks your second full season with the Republic. And you're now the longest-tenured coach in Club history. Can you talk about your journey as manager?
It's gone by quite quickly. Lot's has happened since I came in. There's no doubt about it... we're in a transition period with the first team. You always get that when managers move on. We saw a lot of players move after the eight games I had in charge at the end of that season when I came in, and last year we added a lot of players...a lot of younger players.
Of course, losing on penalties was tough to take, but we did finish at the top of our league, so as the head coach, I have to be really proud of what the players and the coaching staff have done for those 30 plus games to win as many games as we did, break the records we did... it's just one game we come up short in a penalty shootout with really, really thin margins.
And then of course, two years running we've lost our top scorer in RoRo (Rodrigo Lopez) and Cameron Iwasa, but again, that speaks volumes about what we're doing at the Club that we have players moving on to higher divisions. So, this season is going to be a big challenge.
I think the league has improved in every season, but like I said at the start of this conversation, I'm delighted to be here. I love the job... I love what we've been doing with the first team and bringing in academy players as well. I'm really excited about this season and the future. Sacramento is a fabulous club to work for.
On a personal level, how are you and your family enjoying Sacramento and the Region? Is there a favorite place to eat or grab a pint?
Well, because we got young Edward who is nearly 11 months, we're ready for bed at Eight o'clock. No, but we live out in El Dorado Hills, and don't get to downtown all that much. Milestone Restaurant is my favorite restaurant in El Dorado, but it's really a great community no matter where we go in Sacramento. It's really friendly and it's the biggest thing that Rebecca and I have found how welcoming everyone is in the area, and how easy it's has been for us to make the transition from Westport, Connecticut. Rebecca's enjoying her job and just went back [to work] and we're really, really happy in Sacramento and where we live. I feel quite blessed actually, and we're going to give the jobs everything we've got. We're really having a good time.
Indomitable City Soccer (ICS) would like to thank Coach Buckle for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. We look forward to bringing ICS readers the “Extra Time with Buckle” segment throughout the 2017 season. You can follow William Hodges on Twitter at william_hodges.