Turn on your television, radio or favorite digital device ahead of pretty much any sporting event, and you’re likely to hear the term “must win” thrown out. After all, it’s perhaps the most overly used sports term there is, but make no mistake about it, coming off of two-consecutive losses and only three games left on the regular season schedule, Republic’s 2-0 win over Phoenix Rising FC was just that — a must win.
Backed by a boisterous Tower Bridge Battalion and sellout crowd of 11,569, the Republic controlled much of the possession early. The Republic’s most dangerous chance early on would come in the 16th minute when James Kiffe crossed a ball to Trevin Caesar who laided it off nicely to a trailing Villyan Bijev who smashed a ball right of the goal. The ball wasn’t that close to going in, but it was a good build up nonetheless.
In the 27th minute, Phoenix would get a nice chance of their own. After the Republic had possession on their end of the field, a nicely worked counter by Phoenix resulted in a dangerous ball in the box. Phoenix leading goal scorer, Jason Johnson (10 USL goals) would get his head on it, but it sailed just over the top of the crossbar to keep the score level.
The two Clubs would muster a couple more decent chances over the next 20 minutes, and defender Peter McGlynn and Phoenix midfielder Alessandro Riggi would also get into a bit of a scuffle (resulting in no yellow cards) in the 41st minute, but the whistle was blown and the teams headed to the locker room locked at 0-0. Of course, as it would turn out, McGlynn would get a yellow card in the 45th minute.
The Republic would strike first in the second half. After a foul and yellow card by Phoenix’s Matt Watson just outside the box, Emrah Klimenta calmly stepped up to take the free kick and hit a laser in the top left corner to give the Republic a 1-0 advantage in the 49th minute sending Papa Murphy's Park into a frenzy.
But the scoring didn’t stop there for the Quails. Just five minutes later in the 54th minute, Villyan Bijev collected a ball just outside the box, chipped it cleverly forward to Agustin Cazarez, who hit a left-footed screamer of a shot to the right side of goal that slide just under the diving arms of Phoenix keeper Josh Cohen for a 2-0 lead.
In the 77th minute, Evan Newton would do what’s he’s done all year and make two outstanding saves in succession on shots by Johnson and Amadou Dia.
In the end, the Republic were the much better team in a game that they absolutely had to have. They were on the front foot the entire night and beat a solid Phoenix Club that came into the match having won their last five-consecutive matches. With the win, the Republic move to 13-10-6 (45 points) and in sixth place in the Western Conference, while Phoenix drops to 14-8-7 (49 points) and in fifth place.
The Republic will embark on a three-game road trip to conclude the regular season, which starts Wednesday, October 4 at Orange County SC. From there, the Republic will play Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC before closing the season against Reno 1868 FC.
Of course, there is a slim chance the Republic could still host a playoff game depending on how things shake out, but if this was the season finale at Papa Murphy’s Park, what a tremendous send off for the Republic faithful.
Final Stats and Lineup
Sacramento Republic FC: 2 goals, 8 shots, 3 shots on target, 59.5 possession, 1 offside, 3 yellow cards.
Phoenix Rising FC: 0 goals, 11 shots, 4 shots on target, 40.5 possession, 0 offside, 2 yellow cards.
Republic FC lineup: Evan Newton; James Kiffe, Emrah Klimenta, Chris Christian, Peter McGlynn; Augustin Cazarez, Jeremy Hall, Luis Espino (OUT, 87’), Villyan Bijev; Trevin Caesar (OUT 69’), Sammy Ochoa (OUT, 90’).
Republic FC bench: Dominik Jakubek, Carlos Rodriguez, Gabe Gissie (IN, 90’), Tyler Blackwood (IN 69’), Christian Chaney (IN, 87’), Elliot Hord, Matt Wiesenfarth.