Paul Buckle took over as coach of Sacramento Republic in July 2015, after the previous coach Preki Radosavljević quit to pursue what would eventually be a failed bid in England. Buckle has got the Republic into the playoffs both seasons since taking charge, and won the Western Conference last year. This season, he took the Republic on a deep US Open Cup run that included defeating the MLS team Real Salt Lake 4 to 1. By a variety of measures, Buckle’s tenure so far has been relatively successful.
While it seems a variety of accomplishments have been checked off each season, something is wrong. Republic look as likely to lose any game as win it. The defense is fragile; every set piece and corner an opponent takes is nerve-wracking, counters result in spun around center-backs and unmarked runners.
Republic’s attack is no better. It offers predictable long passes to forwards who, if they do get on the end of a pass, find themselves isolated and in poor position to score. In contrast to opponents’ set pieces, ours inspire the same fear as the Snuggles bear does. Corner after corner, cross after cross, noting happens. The repetition dulls the senses of those who watch. Perhaps it dulls the players too.
It is my opinion that Paul Buckle has gone as far as he can with the Republic. Our team, former champions, need to be pushed to a higher level that is more deserving of the fans, the players, and the ambitions of the club. My argument that Buckle should be removed is centered around three somewhat related problems:
- Tactical Problems
- Personnel Choice
- Game management
How many formations and starting XIs have we seen this year? Three? Five? Eight? Nearly every game there is a new set of players, regardless of injuries. There have been experiments with 3 at the back, a diamond in midfield, three midfielders, two midfielders, a false winger, two fast forwards, 3 forwards, a big forward and a fast forward, 5 forwards and so on. Has any of it resulted in better play? No. More goals? No. Is it more fun to watch? No.
I thought the 3-5-2 against Rio Grande was a turning point. We had a formation that would provide cover for Republic’s flaws and a platform to build on it’s strengths. It was matched with tactics that had the team pressing, pushing, attacking, and combining in exciting ways. Then next match it was all gone. We have seen the same since. Glimpses at something positive, only to be quickly undone.
The way Gilberto left in 2016 was the first little warning sign. He was a singular talent in this league and I thought he brough so much joy to the pitch. Then there was the Mirkovic situation. Losing a player like that cost the team for quite some time until Jeremy Hall, hallowed be thy name, was brought in.
There are currently ten forwards on the roster. Last match against Colorado Switchbacks, two of our six defenders came off injured. One of those defenders, Carlos Rodriguez, is coming off a season-long battle with injury and can clearly not last 90 minutes anyway. The midfield looks just as sparse. Recent acquisitions have helped fill the roster, but integration time in that crucial position is limited and so far the new signings have not impressed.
Paul Buckle is the team’s Technical Director as well as Head Coach, so these personnel decisions are his. We have been left with a horribly unbalanced side that, despite its glut of attacking talent, struggles to entertain fans or light up the scoreboard.
Last week’s game against Colorado served as a perfect illustration of Buckle’s poor game management. Republic was up 2-1 with two injured defenders and we witnessed a procession of attacking players come on to replace them. The defense never looked that stable to start and with the squad now unbalanced late in the game, Colorado equalized.
It seems like every time Republic need to lock a game a down, they fail to do it. When they need to push for a goal, they lack urgency. When long passes aren’t working, no shift to tight passing is made. No man marking ever seems to happen, like the team is unaware of who the “danger men” are for opposing squads. But it’s the insistence on putting so many forwards on the pitch that highlights Buckle’s lack of creativity and ability to lead our team.
In previous seasons, five substitutes were allowed in USL play and occasionally we would see all five used to put strikers on the pitch. This season, we have seen at least four forwards on at the same time. Yet this bounty of striking talent never yields any dividends. Games do not turn into thrilling eight goal slug-fests. They stay stagnant and bereft of joy. That being said, I suppose Tyler Blackwood’s volley a few games back raised my blood pressure a tad.
And that seems to be the core of it: The Buckle era has been defined by long periods of boredom, with the occasional stir of excitement. We deserve better. We certainly pay for better. I think there is an argument to be made that Buckle has done an acceptable job since taking charge. But acceptable should not be good enough for a club of this magnitude. After this season, regardless of outcome, Buckle should step aside and a new coach should be found.
Do you think Buckle has done enough to earn another season at the club? Is this analysis overly cirtical? Let us know in the comments how you feel about the Paul Buckle era for Sacramento Republic.