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The best to never win: 2016 Sacramento Republic FC

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One game undid an entire season.

Photo Gallery: Sacramento Republic vs Orange County Blues

This week, SB Nation is asking one question across the network: Which team on your site is the best to never win? For Indomitable City Soccer, the answer seems rather clear.

Winning the title in the first season set the bar sky-high for Sacramento Republic FC. The 2014 triumph showed the club can dream big, and they’ve been chasing a repeat ever since year one.

While 2015 featured the departure of first head coach Preki for Paul Buckle midseason, 2016 was Buckle’s first full campaign in charge, and it was a bit of the changing of the guard on the roster, too, with club talisman Rodrigo Lopez venturing out to play in Mexico and many of the classic “Preki’s guys” departing.

Still, the 2016 regular season ended well for Sac Republic, as they finished atop the Western Conference, edging out Wilmer Cabrera’s Rio Grande Valley FC for the top seed. Cameron Iwasa was in the top 10 in the league in scoring, Danny Barrera was second in the USL in assists and an All-USL Pro first team selection, and the team finished the regular season with an 11-game unbeaten streak.

And then...it all fell apart in just over 120 minutes.

Sacramento faced the 8th seed Orange County Blues in the opening round. OC had snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the season and needed help to do it, and with a coaching change there midseason, they seemed to be thoroughly outmatched in the one-off playoff game.

Republic FC fiery favorite Ivan Mirkovic was actually lining up for Orange County in this one, and the Blues also featured Josh Cohen between the sticks, the goalkeeper later going on to make the move up the coast to feature for Sacramento.

Orange County stymied Sacramento for 90 minutes, with regular time ending 0-0, and then again after another 30 minutes of extra time. Pushed to the brink of elimination at Bonney Field, Sacramento tried but could not vanquish the underdog.

So it went to penalties. J.J. Koval was the goat on the night, as he was the only player of 10 between the sides who didn’t convert his spot kick, Cohen stretching to save his attempt.

The playoff game, with a 4-5 penalties loss after a 0-0 game, demonstrates the fine margins in soccer, how even a clear-cut favorite, at home, with a season’s worth of good results can mean nothing in a single game.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for Sac Republic, and arguably the hardest elimination loss to date for the club. They have reached the playoffs in every season completed to date, and again, they’re still aiming for a repeat of the 2014 glory. Being a No. 1 seed, expected to make a deep run eliminated in the opening game in a penalty shootout, rewrote the script, and not in a positive way for Sacramento Republic FC’s history. Sometimes that’s how it goes, even if the rest of the season was good.

What do you think? Do you agree the 2016 Sac Republic team is the “best to never win”? Leave a comment below.