I know what you’re thinking. This has been the longest offseason ever. Believe me, I hear you. I chalk it up to the dreary winter and my young children draining me. Maybe it’s different for you. Whatever the case, I think we can all agree that 2017 Sacramento Republic FC season on the horizon is a welcomed sight.
Because this is my inaugural post to Indomitable City Soccer (ICS), I’d like to first take a moment to thank the ICS team for bringing me on board (looking at you Kyle Kepner and Josh Beeman). There are some exciting new features planned for this season and I look forward to bringing it to you and building on what is already a tremendous site and resource for Republic fans.
Today we continue our Depth Chart series by examining the fullback position in its full glory. When our editor asked for volunteers to take this on, I gladly stepped forward because not only is it one of my favorite positions on the field, I would argue that it’s been one of the keys to the Republic’s success over the years.
Anchored by veteran players and a core of promising reserves, I believe this position will continue to be a strength for the Republic in 2017. Let’s dive in and take a look.
1. James Kiffe
When the Republic and James Kiffe finally reached an agreement on a contract a few weeks ago, there seemed to be one massive exhale from fans, at least judging by the response on social media. And for good reason. Kiffe was without question the best player on the field for the Republic last season. He makes great runs, puts tremendous crosses in the box (second only to Danny Barrera in assists last year), is a solid defender (especially in one-on-one situations), and has shown to be incredibly durable (36 appearances in 2016). I would expect more of the same from Kiffe this season.
2. Enrique Montano
A newcomer to the club, Salinas native and San Jose State alum Enrique Montano joins the Republic straight from Louisville City FC where, over the course of two seasons, he made 23 appearances (20 starts), recorded six assists and logged 1,841 minutes. Manager Paul Buckle seems to be very high on Montano and his ability to immediately contribute this season. "Enrique is a young player who, at just 23 years-old, is beyond his years technically with the ball at his feet," he said in a press release. "His ability to deliver the ball will be a great asset for us." I expect Montano to see considerable time this season, and because of that, will definitely be a player to watch.
1. Emrah Klimenta
A fan favorite and one of the longest tenured Republic players, Emrah Klimenta is coming off a season-ending knee injury that kept him out of the majority of the 2016 campaign. All season-ending injuries are brutal, but this was particularly heartbreaking for Klimenta. He had just returned from a call up with the Montenegro National Team, was playing exceptionally well and was excited to be back with his teammates to make a deep run. That all came crashing down on July 2 when he tore his left ACL.
The question on everyone’s mind is how will he bounce back. My guess is Buckle will ease him back into play and slowly increase his minutes, so it might be sometime before we see Klimenta at full strength. That process already seems to have started, as Klimenta saw his first competitive minutes since the injury in the Republic’s recent friendly against Sacramento State.
This much I know: Klimenta has worked extremely hard to get back, and given his character, I expect him to make a triumphant return and be a significant contributor. It just may take some time, so patience will be key.
2. Elliot Hord
Remember wondering who would fill the void when Klimenta went down? Insert Elliot Hord. Hord was signed by the Republic on August 19, and by all measures, did a tremendous job in his seven appearances with the Club. It’s never easy to come in and do what he did and at such a high-level. Hord deserves a lot of credit for jumping in and getting after it, and so it was no surprise when the Republic signed him in the offseason. I expect Hord to play a significant role this season, especially early on with Klimenta easing back into play.
Don’t be surprised to see Agustin Cazarez or newcomer Peter McGlynn (formerly with Longford Town FC of the Irish Premier League and a 2013 San Jose Quakes draftee) at fullback from time to time. Cazarez has some experience at fullback, even though he has played mostly in the midfield. And while Buckle will likely opt to play McGlynn at midfield, it’s conceivable that he could play at fullback too given his skillset.
Here’s the bottom line: the Republic are deep at the fullback position. There is a level of experience and skill that I believe will be a difference maker – especially when it comes to late season USL play.
But it’s not without questions. How will Klimenta come back? Can Kiffe repeat his stellar 2016 season? How will Montano fill in? Can Hord continue where he left off? Defensively, can they help lock down the back line (for the record, I think they can. If there are any concerns to the back line of the Republic, it’s more at the center back position where they are thin – at least at this juncture). We will soon get answers on all of this, but make no mistake, the pieces are in place.
Do you think the Republic has its strongest fullback corps ever? What is your opinion on the Republic’s fullback depth chart? Sound off in the comments below!
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