Sacramento Republic FC currently sits uncomfortably at 5th place in the USL Western Conference with Colorado Springs, Seattle, Tulsa, and Phoenix all three points or less behind. As the mid-season break comes to an end, the 4th through 8th seeds are all still up for grabs.
Right now Phoenix, although sitting at 9th place, has the biggest advantage due to the fact that they have only played in 15 games while all of the other teams in front have played at least 17. In fact, the team rankings are so tight that if Phoenix wins their next game and all 4 teams in front of them lose, Phoenix will leapfrog all of them and end up at 5th place. Seeing as Phoenix has been rising (see what I did there?) this scenario isn’t unrealistic at all.
Therefore, Sacramento is in desperate need of a winning streak to separate itself from the pack. Even though the offense has been very aggressive and has had a lot of scoring opportunities, the lack of goals scored causes me to believe that this team will only go as far as their defense takes them.
Evan Newton has been solid for Sacramento, but could do much better. The amount of clean sheets he has (three) puts him in the middle of the Western Conference ranks, while the four teams ranked ahead of SRFC (Real Monarchs, San Antonio, Reno, and Swope Park) are ranked in the top 5 in clean sheets in the Western Conference. To be fair to Newton and goalkeepers everywhere, defenders and defensive midfielders contribute to clean sheets as well and San Antonio and Swope Park have some of the best defenders in the USL this season.
Newton, at times, has been sensational and many of the goals he concedes seem to be because of a weird deflection or bad positioning by both center backs. However, there are times where he is out of position and lacks in communication to his teammates to better set up the defense. There are times where SRFC is so aggressive that counter attacks end up causing our center backs to be in one-on-one situations, which is exactly why there must be communication or at least more practice against such situations.
There have been times this season where Chris Christian and Emrah Klimenta have looked extraordinary. Klimenta was even placed on a couple USL Team of the Week squads. Klimenta has showed an aggressive style of play, which has rewarded him on the offensive end with two goals, but it has also allowed him to make a great amount of tackles and deflections in or around the goal box. In fact, he has an 87.5% success rate in tackles.
Christian has also shown flashes of a player who could potentially play in the MLS. His ability to be composed as the last line of defense and while handling the ball has been impressive. Even when he has the ball and the opponent flies at him, he always seems to make the right pass without panicking and with great accuracy (85.3% pass accuracy). That’s a great quality to have and I’m sure Newton appreciates it.
Our defensive midfielder, Agustin Cazarez, has shown consistency and stability at his position while being around 50% in significant defensive categories: 68% tackle success rate, 52% duel success rate, and wins 47% of aerial duels (despite being only 5’ 7”). What’s most important than all that is while being amidst all of the chaos, he has 90% passing accuracy on SRFC’s side of the field.
Although the center of Sac Republic’s defense has been impressive statistically, they’re going to have to do better to prevent goals. Sacramento’s current struggle to score places more responsibility on the defense, so Evan Newton and company will have to dig in a little deeper and take pride in a strong defensive approach to keep the team in the playoff race.
Sacramento’s roster is filled with defensive talent, so it isn’t unrealistic to have a defensive approach to many upcoming matches. In fact, Caesar and Blackwood’s speed would make for a deadly counter attack duo. But until our offense figures out a way to regularly finish their shot attempts, SRFC will have to rely on the play of the defense to stay afloat in the race for the Western Conference playoff spots.