We are a few weeks removed from the final Sacramento Republic FC match of the 2019 season (a 3-0 USL Championship Playoffs semifinal loss to El Paso Locomotive FC on November 2) and I am still struggling to gather my thoughts on the 2019 season.
On one hand, they qualified for the playoffs and made a nice run, including a 2-1 win at home against New Mexico United and then an impressive 3-1 win on the road at Reno 1868 days later. Many teams in the USL Championship would welcome this level of success. On the other hand, the season on the whole was mired in inconsistency.
This is not to suggest there wasn’t brights spots, because there were. Cameron Iwasa had another outstanding season (team-leading 17 goals, six assists), Sam Werner was arguably the team’s most valuable (and consistent) player and certainly has a bright future, and the addition of Thomas Enevoldsen late in the season was a bolt of energy the team needed (albeit too late). He was a big reason why Republic FC qualified for the playoffs.
The back line of the Republic certainly had its issues. The team only conceded 48 goals on the season (fourth fewest in the Western Conference), but I would argue the offense helped mask some of the deficiencies in the back line. There were many spells they appeared unorganized — especially on set pieces. It also didn’t help that the team lost goalkeeper Josh Cohen in July via transfer to Maccabi Haifa FC of the Israeli Premier League. Cohen was very much the heart and soul of the team and his loss can not be understated. Acquiring Bobby Shuttleworth on loan was helpful, but it felt like more of a band aid.
The most glaring weakness may have been at midfield. Not to live in the past, but the team really missed Jeremy Hall. He was so good at holding up play and controlling a match, and the Republic really missed this element this season. On the flip side, Jaime Villarreal was outstanding, as was Keven Aleman down the stretch once he got healthy.
I know some weresurprised to see Simon Elliott dismissed at the end of the season, but as I understand the situation, the players were frustrated by the lack of communication from him. They didn’t know if or when they were playing, and I think it is really hard as a professional athlete when you don’t have clarity. Maybe this tactic works well in an academy setting, but not at the professional level.
None of this should get in the way of the fact that Elliott was always a gentleman and performed well in his first stint as a first-team manager. He will surely improve, and let’s not forget it wasn’t all his fault. There were several players who under performed or faded down the stretch — notably Villyan Bijev, Stefano Bonomo and Dekel Keinan.
The one player I thought should have received more playing time was Hayden Partain. The fact he mostly sat the bench this season, or came in late as a substitute, was criminal. When he did play, Partain was a headache for opposing teams and was just a joy to watch. Here’s to him getting more playing time next year with the Republic, or wherever he may land.
In the end, it was very much a roller coaster type of season. There were some bright spots and some not so bright spots, but they just didn’t have the consistency needed to be a top-tier team. Yes, the team made the playoffs for the sixth-consecutive season, but that is not good enough for a club who has set high standards for itself, and I think they would be the first to admit it didn’t go as well as planned. You know what though? It’s those high-standards that make Republic FC the awesome club it is.
There is plenty of work ahead for Republic FC General Manager Todd Dunivant to do in the off-season, and no doubt he is already busy mapping out next season and beyond as the club builds towards joining MLS in 2022.
In the years to come, my guess is we won’t remember what went well or didn’t on the field in 2019. This season will be remembered for what happened off the field.
And I think that’s something we can all proud of Sacramento.