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2017 USL Season Preview: Sacramento Republic FC

Does the Republic have enough to finish on top of the table again in 2017?

Alex Leguizamo/Indomitable City Soccer

Year Founded: 2014

Affiliation: Independent. Formerly affiliated with the San Jose Earthquakes (2014-2016)

2016 record, place in Conference standings: 14-10-6, 1st place in Western Conference

2016 playoffs: Conference Quarterfinals.

Key additions: Sammy Ochoa, Tyler Blackwood, Adam Moffat

Key departures: Cameron Iwasa, Chris Christian, Mike da Fonte

Projected/ideal starting XI (4-4-2): Evan Newton; James Kiffe, Julius James, Jeremy Hall, Elliot Hord; Agustin Cazarez, Tyler Blackwood, Adam Moffat, Danny Barrera; Trevin Caesar, Sammy Ochoa.

The 2016 Sacramento Republic FC season ended in a gut-wrenching loss on penalties versus the Orange County Blues in the Conference Quarterfinals in a tightly contested match. The loss was particularly difficult given that the Republic had finished on top of the Western Conference table and came into the playoffs undefeated in their last 10 games (six of those being wins).

One of the issues that plagued the Republic throughout last season was their inability to score goals – especially when they REALLY needed one. This was addressed in the offseason with the addition of forwards Sammy Ochoa (11 goals, 6 assists last season with Tulsa), Trevin Caesar (10 goals last season with OC Blues) and Tyler Blackwood (8 goals last season with Arizona). These three join Harry Williams, Daniel Trickett-Smith, Wilson Kneeshaw, and others to form a formidable front line. Expect better execution and more goals this season in the final third.

While they are improved up top, there is some concern with the backline — specifically at the center back position — due to the loss of Mike Da Fonte, Chris Christian, and Carlos Rodriguez, who was injured during the preseason. The backline has been a strength for the Republic in the past. Can they piece it together quickly? Time will tell.

Why you should watch Sacramento in 2017

The Republic continues to attract top-flight talent to the club thanks to the dynamic duo of Paul Buckle (Manager and Technical Director) and Graham Smith (Director of Football). These two have deep ties and relationships in the soccer ranks that seem to be unparalleled at this level. Additionally, the Republic have a proven track record of developing its players to compete at a higher level. Cameron Iwasa, who signed with Sporting Kansas City in the off-season, and Mike Da Fonte, who recently transferred to the Colorado Rapids, are two recent examples.

3 players to watch:

Danny Barrera: The Republic’s team captain and only player to be named to the All-USL First Team, Barrera led the club last season with nine assists (team record), logged over 3000 minutes and chipped in three goals. He is terrific on set pieces. Barrera must play a big role again this season if the Republic are to be successful.

James Kiffe: Without question, Kiffe was the Republic’s best player on the pitch last season. He’s incredibly durable (36 appearances in 2016), he makes great runs and puts dangerous crosses in the box. Buckle likes to use his fullbacks in a more attacking mode, so Kiffe could be poised for another huge year.

Sammy Ochoa: Ochoa had a monster season last year with the Tulsa Roughnecks FC. The Republic needed a player that can find the back of the net in crucial moments — especially with the loss of Iwasa. Ochoa could be part of the answer.

Bonus player:

Elliot Hord: Hord emerged last season after fan-favorite Emrah Klimenta went down with a season-ending knee injury. By all measures, Hord played exceptionally well at the right back position, so well that Buckle will begin the season with Hord. Will he seize the opportunity?

The 2017 season will be a success if...

They return back to the USL final. The Republic won a USL Championship in their inaugural season, they have made the playoffs every year in their existence, and are considered to be a finalist to land one of the next four Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion teams. Simply put – the bar is high on and off the pitch. Anything less than a deep run in the USL playoffs will be considered a disappointment.

Read more:

Sacramento Republic FC’s MLS Dream Continues

Republic FC heads into 2017 with its strongest fullback corps ever

Three Takeaways from Saturday’s game against FC Cincinnati

Extra Time with Buckle