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Sacramento Republic FC off to a great start

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11 games in, the team looks great

Indomitable City Soccer/Alex Leguizamo

SACRAMENTO IS OFF TO A GREAT START

The 2018 season has started in a pleasantly unpredictable manor with a 6-2-3 record with a squad that holds many new players on the roster. This includes an undefeated start during the first seven matches against teams with an average win/draw percentage of 61.4 percent. It is because of this run, Sacramento is currently in 3rd place in the Western Conference Standings right behind Phoenix Rising FC.

Although they have the same record, Sacramento is currently behind in “Goals For” (23 to 17) and “Goal Differences” (10 to 4) thus causing a tie-breaker. Unlike American Football, beating your opponent in a 1 on 1 match-up simply isn’t enough; you need the stats to back you up. So where does Sacramento stand among the rest of USL?

ATTACKING

With Simon Elliott in control, Sacramento has taken a huge leap offensively. Over the same time span last season (2017), Sacramento scored a total of 13 goals while also going on a horrific six-game stretch where they failed to score a goal, whereas in this season (2018), Republic FC has failed to score only once while scoring 17 goals (5th Place in USL).

Against other USL competition, Sacramento’s 17 goals at a 15 percent conversion rate ranks them 12th among the 33 teams. While Sacramento’s conversion rate is ranked towards the middle of the pack, it’s important to note that their scoring has been consistent thus far by making one to two goals each match (save one).

Elliott’s attack methods have also continued Sacramento’s knack for last minute goals with six being in the 70th minute or later with five of them being game-tying/winning goals, thus resulting in nine of Sacramento’s 21 points.

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There’s no question the player with the biggest impact on the attacking end has been Cameron Iwasa. The return to his home town has sparked a consistent attack Sacramento has not had for the past couple years. His five goals are tied for 3rd in the league, while his 24 shot attempts put him at 4th. He’s also been a solid all around contributor by leading the team with three assists and 70 percent long pass accuracy (minimum 15 attempts).

DEFENSE

Last season, we watched Sacramento start off matches with a complete defensive meltdown by allowing eight goals within the first 10 minutes (seven games), which provided a gigantic amount of pressure for the remainder of the matches.

Glimpses of defensive struggle are still occurring early on this season. Who can forget Sacramento’s second half meltdown against Reno where they allowed three goals in five minutes to take the lead and ultimately win?

Another example is Sacramento allowing two goals this season within the first five minutes (Las Vegas and Tulsa). The Quails are also ranked near the bottom in the category of “clean sheets” with only two (T-22nd) and have conceded a total of 13 goals (T-12th). Although 13 may not seem a lot, they’ve been pretty evenly spread out each match, and while Sacramento has been consistent with their scoring, they’ve also consistently allowed 1.4 goals each match (excluding clean sheet matches).

This could be due to the fact that Simon Elliott, the starting back four (Shannon Gomez, Mitchell Taintor, Justin Schmidt, and Carlos Roderiguez), and keeper (Josh Cohen) are all either new starters or new to Sacramento Republic in general.

This results in a lack of chemistry and understanding of a system. When it comes to defense, understanding the scheme, team chemistry, and trust in each other’s positioning are of the utmost importance. Do not worry, only a third of the season has gone by so there’s plenty of time for the group to improve, and while the defense is somewhat struggling from a team perspective, there are many individual bright spots as well.

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Josh Cohen was signed by Sacramento in the off-season after a stellar 2017 season with Phoenix Rising FC, leading one of the best defensive units in the USL last season. Currently, Cohen ranks second in the league with 34 saves while posting only two clean sheets. After watching every match myself I can tell you that two thirds of these saves were spectacular and with lack of help from the back four.

He also has a 72.3 percent save rate when shots come his way. To put this number in perspective, the keeper with the most saves, Fabián Cerda (37), has a save rate of 67.3 percent.

DISTRIBUTION

Sacramento’s new style reflects constant, easy passes to the open man for consistent movement and forced opposing defensive rotation which then results in an aggressive up-field move.

Republic FC currently sits at fourth in the league in passes attempted with 4,647 and 7th in accuracy (78 percent). Although their accuracy ranks in the top 10, their aggressive nature tends to get the best of them when passing on their opponent’s side of the field. Their pass accuracy of 69 percent on their opponent’s side of the field puts them in the middle of the pack.

The risky passes they attempt result in shot on goal opportunities, but when they fail to thread the needle, a strong counter attack by the opposing team usually follows. For reference, pass percentage on the opponent’s side of the field for the highest scoring team, Phoenix, is at 66 percent. The lowest scoring team, OKC, is at 63 percent, and the number one ranked team, Salt Lake City, is at 74 percent (Side Note: Real Monarchs are T-3rd in scoring).

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The unsung heroes of most teams are those who dish out great passes and initiate attacks, but rarely get goals or extraordinary diving saves. There are two players who I feel have had a highly positive impact in regards to distribution:

In his third season with the team, Jeremy Hall has been the epitome of consistency. His pass attempts, pass accuracy, long pass accuracy, pass accuracy in opponent’s half, pass accuracy in own half, and assists all rank him in the top five in regards to the team. The table below, in itself, highlights Hall’s importance to the club:

Jeremy Hall 2018 Stats

Category Pass Attempts Pass Accuracy Long Pass % Passes per 90 mins PAOp (%) Pass Accuracy in Own Half Assists
Category Pass Attempts Pass Accuracy Long Pass % Passes per 90 mins PAOp (%) Pass Accuracy in Own Half Assists
Stat 471 89.80% 66.70% 46.7 85.20% 92.50% 1
Team Rank 2nd 1st T-5th 3rd 1st 4th T-7th
Jeremy Hall 2018 Stats Ryan Goff

The other player with high impact, particularly when it comes to attacking is Villyan Bijev. After being pursued by other teams in the off-season, Bijev’s return to Sacramento has been more than welcome.

His relentlessness has resulted in a team-high in shots attempted (25), shots on target (13), assists (3), and chances created (20). From an offensive perspective, his none-scoring contributions have been off the charts. His cross-over goal was pretty sweet, too.

IN GOOD SHAPE

With the amount of player turnover, a coaching change, and a MLS negotiation still in play, Sacramento has gone above and beyond expectations for this season. After last season’s mediocre performances and barely squeezing into the playoffs, the addition of Simon Elliott as the head coach has taken the club to new heights.

In a post-game interview with ICS’s very own William Hodges, Elliott said a couple things that really showed the team was in a more positive direction:

Hodges: How important is a good run in Open Cup play for you and the fans?

Elliott: It’s very important. Every game is important...it’s professional soccer. Every time you get out there it’s a tough game. In the USL, it’s tough games, good players, good coaching and this is no different. You see the quality of the players. This is a big game of them, and we have to rise to the challenge. There are no easy games. You have to have that mentality if you want to succeed at the highest level.

Hodges: Is it safe to say you’d like another crack at Reno?

Elliott: Yeah....but I am sure Reno would like another crack at us after that second half. It was a good game. I thought we were good in the first half, and they were better than us in the second half, so they got what they deserved. We need to learn from it and be better...whether we play them in the Open Cup or in the league.

His blunt honesty has been a breathe of fresh air and his attitude after wins/losses have really shown a coach worth standing behind. With only a third of the season done, I’m excited to see the progress the team makes during the remainder of 2018.