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Sacramento Republic eager to return to action after coronavirus shutdown

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Players adjust to new normal with season restart approaching.

Joe de Ocampo/Indomitable City Soccer

Sacramento Republic FC are getting closer to the restart of the 2020 USL Championship regular season, and they aren’t taking it for granted.

“Honestly, I think just being back out here, first and foremost, is one of the nicest things,” head coach Mark Briggs said at training Thursday. “When you’re in quarantine and you’re away you miss the little things like the sound the ball makes when it’s struck cleanly, the smell of the grass. It’s just nice to be out here and have the camaraderie with the players and see the level they’re still at.”

Sacramento Republic will face Tacoma Defiance, Portland Timbers 2 and rival Reno 1868 FC for most of their remaining 15 regular-season games, the league announced Thursday.

With the picture coming clearer and the league set to begin play July 11, there is unsurprisingly considerable enthusiasm among the squad.

“It’s awesome,” said forward Cameron Iwasa. “We’ve been waiting three months since the shutdown. I think everyone has done a good job around the league and with our club in particular in following the guidelines and making sure everything was safe before we returned to full practice...More than anything, it’s just fun.”

“I just want to play. I don’t care who it is, when it is, just get back on this field, come back to Papa Murphy[‘s Park] and play,” said defender Jordan McCrary.

Everyone who spoke touted the shutdown fitness plan the club followed, with players given detailed work to stay fit, first in their homes, then with outdoor running thrown in, and then with progressive levels of team training in recent weeks.

“We didn’t allow them to switch off and from a physical standpoint we haven’t lost too much ground,” said Briggs. “They came in in very good shape, which was very pleasing.”

Still, there’s work to be done, according to Briggs: “It’s basically a mini-preseason all over again.”

Players are focused on the upcoming games, and are thinking of the ways they will deal with the likelihood of few to no fans at their games this year.

“I’m just excited for games to start again, honestly,” said midfielder Villyan Bijev. “Even if the club decides and the state decides we’re not allowed to have fans, I know they’ll be supporting us from home. And to give them that joy and that pleasure of watching us and rooting us on, and to know that they’re watching and rooting us on is amazing. Also to compete. The reason I play this sport, personally, is because I love competing. I love to go against other teams and I just want to show everything we’ve been working on and go and win some games.”

Iwasa agrees and just wants to mark his calendar.

“I’m just excited to start playing again. I know it’s going to be weird playing without all of our fans, especially at the home games, but just getting an opportunity to play at all is something we’re looking forward to. I’m excited to see what the schedule actually looks like, I think we’re all anticipating that. Once we get back out there again, it’s going to be great,” he said.

And McCrary noted that without fans present, the motivation for Sac Republic will need to be a bit different.

“It’s one of those things where we have to have the intensity from within and fight for each other, get the win for the fans that are at home watching,” he said.

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