The one constant in most team sports is that defense wins championships. This is also true for soccer. The U.S. Women’s National Team held their opponents to 540 consecutive scoreless minutes during their 2015 World Cup championship run. The USL’s New York Red Bulls II only allowed 21 goals for the 2016 season, which helped them win their first ever championship.
For Sacramento Republic FC, it’s no secret that Paul Buckle is a defensive minded coach. His preferred style is playing out from the back and letting the fullbacks get high up the pitch. The fact that the Republic have arguably the best fullback tandem in the USL with Emrah Klimenta and James Kiffe certainly helps to execute this method of attack. Although fullbacks are only part of a defensive unit, a strong corps of center backs is required to compete defensively in professional soccer.
Sacramento Republic FC finished the 2016 regular season tied for second fewest goals allowed in the USL Western Conference. A big part of the Republic's defensive dominance was due to the play of their center backs Chris Christian, Mike da Fonte, Carlos Rodriguez and Derek Foran. There have been some changes this season, most notably the absence of Chris Christian, who has yet to sign with the Republic or any other club. Derek Foran went back to his native Ireland to play for the Bray Wanderers of the Irish Premier Division.
This season the Republic are thin at the center back position, which could cause all kinds of havoc for Buckle’s game plan. Let's take a closer look at the Republic's current center back corps and other potential replacements.
1. Mike da Fonte: Mike da Fonte was solid the second half of last season after winning the starting job from Derek Foran. Center backs must have the strength to muscle attacking players off their line to win the ball and da Fonte is a formidable presence when confronting the opposition. What was most surprising and welcomed was his ability to score from set pieces. His athletic ability and his vision allowed the Republic to find that vertical component that was missing in the attack after Adam Jahn went to the Columbus Crew.
Mike da Fonte is currently the top center back at the club and should be a week-one starter. At 25 years old, da Fonte has an opportunity to elevate his game this season and establish himself as the defensive anchor for the Republic.
2. Carlos Rodriguez: Carlos Rodriguez has the potential to become a great center back for the Republic in the USL and possibly move up with the team to MLS when Sacramento gets the nod from The Don. At just 20 years old, Rodriguez is already showing the qualities of a good defender and player.
Rodriguez stands at 6’ 3” and is one of the tallest members of the Republic. He has great ball handling skills and athletic ability. Although he’s shown great potential as a strong defender, he still needs experience distributing and clearing the ball.
Unfortunately, Rodriguez was injured this past weekend in a preseason friendly against the San Jose Earthquakes, which required surgery for his ankle and could potentially sideline the young defender for a few months.
3. Peter McGlynn: Peter McGlynn was signed by the Republic this off-season as a defender. Though he has played most of his career as a defender, more recently at Longford Town FC of the Irish Premier Division, he is regarded as a utility player. Coach Buckle said about McGlynn,
“He has a lot of good attributes as a defender and as an attacker. He can play anywhere across the back four or in the midfield, and has all the qualities that we look for in a player."
Although a defender that has the ability to score is good to have on the roster, the Republic do need defensive minded players to shore up the back line. It is too early to tell if Buckle will use McGlynn much at center back this season, but with the injuries and lack of signings, Buckle may not have much of a choice.
4. Other Potential Center Backs: If the Republic do not sign more defenders this offseason, the team is going to be shorthanded this season at center back. Some potential candidates that could fill in are Elliot Hord and Jeremy Hall. Trialist Julius James, if signed, can also fill in at center back. James does have limited MLS experience and could help mentor the younger defenders on the team.
At this moment the Republic do not look as strong defensively as they did a season ago. Chris Christian was one of the best players on the squad and was an important contributor to securing the best record in the Western Conference. It is unclear if Christian will once again sign with the Republic. Neither the club nor Christian himself are speaking on the matter.
If the Republic to want to finish on top of the Western Conference and even push for a USL championship, the center backs will need to play an important role in that quest. Mike da Fonte and a healthy Carlos Rodriguez could be the torchbearers and the future of the Republic’s back line and this may be the season to prove it.
Let us know what you think about the Republic's center back situation in the comments below.