The Sacramento Republic FC kicked off their fifth United Soccer League (USL) season for the first time ever at Papa Murphy’s Park (the previous four matches were away), and sent a sellout crowd of 11,569 home elated. It was a great start for the Republic against a solid San Antonio side that finished second on the Western Conference table last season posting an impressive 17-4-11 record (62 points). With the win, the Republic move to 1-0-0 on the season and 3-1-1 all time in home openers.
It was clear from the starting XI that a new day had dawned in Sacramento. Gone were the familiar faces that fans have come to know over the past four seasons, with 10 new players and new manager Simon Elliott. But the winning ways would continue.
The Republic controlled most of the possession early on and their backline and midfield really did a solid job thwarting San Antonio’s attack. However, San Antonio FC would get the first solid look of the match when in the 8th minute, midfielder Omar Gordon took a corner kick and placed it beautifully in the box. The ball seemed to bounce around and hang in the box unaccounted for before finally being cleared out.
The Republic would counter shortly after in the 13th minute when a corner kick bounced off Villyan Bijev to Keven Aleman, whose shot on goal went just wide.
The Quails would not be denied, as in the 45th minute, Cameron Iwasa delivered a beautiful through ball to Aleman who calmly slotted home the first goal of the 2018 season, and his first as a member of the Republic. It was unquestionably a well-earned goal from the home side.
The whistle was blown on the first half and the Republic took a 1-0 advantage into the locker room.
The second half started exactly how the first half ended. In the 48th minute, Villyan Bijev collected a ball on the left side of the field, just outside the 18 yard-box, and hit a laser of a shot that Restrepo couldn’t quite gather. Christian Eissele was there to gather the rebound and hammer it home to give the Republic a 2-0 advantage.
San Antonio would pull one back in the 68th minute after some questionable defending from the Republic. Mikey Lopez slammed it home from the top of the box to bring the score to 2-1 Republic.
From there, the match got rather chippy, as four yellow cards were handed out in a span of 10 minutes.
The Republic would fight off one last chance in the 90th minute when San Antonio substitute Alex Bruce got his head on a well-placed ball in the box, but Josh Cohen made a tremendous save to keep the Republic ahead. The Quails would run down five minutes of stoppage time in-route to 2-1 victory.
The Republic return to action on Saturday, March 24 on the road against Orange County SC at 7pm. Orange County’s first match of the season ended in a 1-1 draw with Phoenix Rising.
Sacramento Republic FC Lineup (4-4-2-1): Josh Cohen; Shannon Gomez, Cole Seiler, Mitchell Trainer, Hayden Partain; Keven Aleman (OUT, 83’), Jeremy Hall, Jaime Villarreal, Villyan Bijev (OUT, 68’); Christian Eissele (OUT, 76’), Cameron Iwasa.
Republic Bench: Rafael Diaz; Mark McEntosh, Carlos Rodriguez, Justin Schmidt (IN, 83’); Quincy Butler, Luis Espino (IN, 68’), Adam Moffat (IN, 76’).
Yellow: San Antonio — Diego Restrepo 5’, Wellington Peka 72’, Mikey Lopez 82’; Republic — Jeremy Hall 76’, Keven Aleman 77’.
Adam Moffat: Moffat saw his first game action since June 10, 2017. As fans know, Moffatt battled a groin injury most of last season.
Prior to Saturday’s match, the Sacramento Republic FC announced that they had signed five academy players to its first-team roster. They include midfielders Quincy Butler and Esteban Zepeda, goalkeepers Johan Garibay and Jordan Martinez, and defender Mark McEntosh.
The ‘Academy Players on Professional Contracts’ arrangement will allow these five amateur players the opportunity to train and compete in professional matches, while not forgoing their NCAA eligibility. All five players will be available for the club’s USL matches.
We’ll have to see how many minutes they see, but given the fact that each player has been with the academy since 2015 or 2016, and manager Simon Elliot’s familiarity with them (having previously led the academy), it could be helpful during a LONG USL season.