Mark Briggs is settling in as Sacramento Republic FC, and the benefit of his history with the USL shows how far things have come.
At one point during an exclusive interview with Indomitable City Soccer on Thursday, Briggs was reminded about the old days of the league featuring truly taxing schedules, including two games in three days, and the head coach laughed, joking, “I think I’m still sore!”
And he believes Sacramento Republic has a truly vital role in the USL Championship these days.
“I think first and foremost, you know Sacramento Republic is probably the biggest club in the USL, and with that comes certain expectations,” Briggs said.
The 38-year-old Englishman played extensively around the world in his pro days, and has a clearly defined style of play he wants to implement at the helm of Republic FC.
“From a holistic point of view my philosophy is, I like the ball on the ground,” he explained. “And I like to play football, I like to pass the ball and play between lines, play forward and get attacking players in one-on-one scenarios. And I think that’s what’s exciting for fans to watch and that’s where I like to watch myself on the sideline as a coach. But I think the big thing for me is, obviously, creating a structure, creating a relationship with the players where they feel comfortable, comfortable enough to express themselves within the structure that I want them to play.”
As someone who’s been both a player and now a manager, Briggs believes giving players the responsibility to do their jobs is the right approach.
“I don’t think football is a coach’s sport. I think it’s all about the players, and I think you have to provide an environment and a structure where the players can thrive and show what they can do,” he explained.
Some fans have noticed that Sacramento Republic’s roster at this point is hovering somewhere around 20 players, and Briggs said that is by design.
“We put this squad together and we purposely wanted a small roster for a number of reasons,” he said. “And I think we’ve got a small roster right now, we obviously have to keep our eyes open if something comes along that we think can fit in into our group, fit into our culture and ultimately improve us as a group, and we’re always open to that. But right now I think we have a good group, we’re strong in every position and we can rotate players — we have players that can play a number of positions. So no, I think we’re in a good spot and we just have to get the players prepared now, ready to start opening day.”
Briggs admitted he didn’t have a set starting XI ready for the first game of the season, March 7 at Papa Murphy’s Park against FC Tulsa, and even players who don’t start in that match will still be counted on this year.
“I think the players are currently competing, the players are currently trying to sway my thoughts for opening day against Tulsa. Also with a small group every player’s going to play a significant role, every player’s going to play a significant part in the whole season, and the schedule’s not as hectic as it used to be. But there’s going to be plenty of opportunity for players to force the issue and to force their way into the starting 11, even if they’re not in my starting group on opening night,” he said.
With preseason well underway for the club, Briggs was asked about players who are really shining ahead of the season opener, and while he admitted it’s difficult to single out a player and name-checked the academy players who have featured in training as well as the top stars on the roster, a returning player has caught his eye in camp.
“A player who was here last year, Darek Formella, has been fantastic since day one of preseason. I think he’s one that deserves a little bit of recognition for the way he came in, his fitness levels when he came in, and then the quality shown on the field within both the games we’ve played so far and we’ve been training every day. It’s been really nice to see, refreshing,” Briggs explained.
And then there’s the expectations for the season. Briggs admits he doesn’t favor big picture objectives, instead working on the campaign one day, game and week at a time.
“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘We’re going to go and win the championship.’ We have our goals internally, but for me today, [it’s] step by step, game by game. [FC] Tulsa, as they’re called now, is the only thing I’m really thinking about, to be honest with you.
“So to answer the question, it will be to get three points against Tulsa, and then the goals change and it becomes three points against Las Vegas. I think as a group, that’s what we have to do, and those are the targets we have to hit and we have to focus on the next step. And if we show the correct focus, the correct attitude and the correct application of what we’re trying to do from a style standpoint, I think the overall goal, we will get somewhere close to that.”
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