Now is not the time to panic. Really.
Republic just went through an extremely difficult stretch of games — arguably its most difficult of the entire 2017 season. A three game road trip in eight days is tough enough, but the teams that Republic faced were not exactly pushovers.
First, there was Tulsa Roughnecks, a team that has yet to lose to anyone but the Republic (they technically had beaten Colorado Springs 4-1 before being forced to retroactively forfeit).
Then came OKC Energy, a team that only suffered seven losses last year, made the Western Conference semi-finals, and that is 3-1-0 all-time against Republic at home.
Finally, there was Swope Park Rangers, a team that had only lost one of their last ten regular season home games going into Saturday.
That is likely the most significant reason that Sacramento suddenly looked weaker this past week. They went from playing weekly games against teams that are unlikely to make the playoffs (Seattle) and teams that are going to be fighting on the bubble (Orange County and Tulsa), to teams that are almost definitely going to make the playoffs in OKC and Swope Park. At this point you can even argue that Swope Park Rangers is the best team in the entire USL. They are one of three teams that have yet to lose a game and the only team that has won every game this season.
Lack of rest is another major factor in what happened. Historically, the Republic have not performed well in situations similar to the one they were in against Swope Park Rangers. In the four times the team has had to play three games in a short time frame, Republic gave up a combined seven goals in the final game of the stretch. That’s an average of 1.75 goals per game. To have held SPR, the third best scoring team in the Western Conference, to one goal with that history is impressive.
When looking for a reason why the Republic might have been shut out, we can look to the numbers to find an answer: shot accuracy. In the first three games of this season, the Republic put 43% of their shots on target, with 38% off target and only 19% blocked by other players. In the last two games, Sacramento dropped to only 28% on target.
This 28% is not a horrible number, though. It is early in the season, but a rolling average of about 30% shots on target, 40% shots off target and 30% shots blocked appears about expected.
The percentage of off target and on target shots from the Republic’s opponents also supports the argument that last week’s opponents were better quality teams.
In the first three games of this season, Republic’s opponents put 55% of their shots off target. In the two losses last week, that number dropped to 35%. Whether this is due entirely to better opponents, or a mix of that and tired defensive legs is an interesting discussion, but something that cannot be argued is that last week’s opponents were far more threatening than those the Republic had played previously.
So is it time to panic? No.
Last week was not the result of the Republic’s wheels falling off. It was the result of them playing good, likely playoff-bound teams. Even the best teams are not going to look as strong against that type of opponent, especially away from home.
What is more important is how well Sacramento has been playing against other teams. They are beating the teams they should be, and keeping it close on the road with little rest against their biggest competition. That’s a recipe for a good season.