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It was a valiant effort by Sacramento Republic

They really were this close to moving on in the playoffs.

Courtesy of Phoenix Rising FC.

With a little time to digest Sacramento Republic FC’s 1-0 loss to Phoenix Rising in the USL Championship playoffs Saturday, we know the lasting memory of the game will be the handball goal scored by Phoenix in the 114th minute to win the game.

But don’t forget just how well Sacramento played in the game.

Phoenix were joint-top scorers in the league this season, and playing at home, a place they seldom lost, meant Sac Republic were underdogs, for sure. We know Sacramento can spring a playoff upset on the road, but they still came in as the team that needed to make some adjustments to hang in the game as long as possible and try to grab a result.

They nearly played it to perfection. Sac Republic’s defense was outstanding, frankly. Not only did they largely prevent Phoenix Rising from getting the ball flowing into the final third, when the ball got down there, they were able to weather the storm, through 90 minutes and most of extra time.

Dekel Keinan and Tomas Hilliard-Arce were the surprise pick in central defense and the rugged center backs teamed up well in crunch time. Jordan McCrary was a rock again, having to play on both sides of defense during the night. Shannon Gomez was a surprise, too, but he played well until forced off with injury. Matt Mahoney entered the game and locked it down in a tough spot.

In midfield, Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu and Jaime Villarreal started alongside Rodrigo Lopez, with Drew Skundrich entering the game late for Lopez. The midfield was tasked with disrupting Phoenix’s attack, and did very well on the night, truly. Lopez’s set piece service was good all night, and they just didn’t find the one ball to get in the net.

The attack did a ton of defending themselves, and that should not go unrecognized. They spent a lot of energy trying to disrupt Phoenix and then had to find chances with the scraps of energy they had left. Darek Formella had two incredible chances. They weren’t battering Phoenix in goal, but they also had their share of good looks, arguably better ones than their opponent had most of the night.

When it’s a one-game playoff round, it can be easy to nitpick. Could the attacking subs have come on sooner than in the final five minutes of extra time? Could they have pushed the tempo a bit harder to try and grab a lead in order to hold onto it? That and more are questions being asked, and surely the team is asking them too. It’s natural when one game is so important to a season.

But all in all, it was a nearly flawless performance from Sacramento Republic, really. I’ve watched a lot of USL playoff games over the years, and tactically, that game was outstanding from Sacramento’s perspective. It hurts to lose, but they just didn’t get the right bounce, and that’s what makes soccer so cruel sometimes.

So yes, this loss will hurt for some time, but don’t forget: Sac Republic had a valiant performance to close out the 2020 season. It didn’t lead to the result they wanted, but they can be proud of the gutsy performance to nearly book that ticket to the next round. Lick your wounds, and get ready for next season.

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