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Can Sacramento Republic dominate group play?

The opportunity appears to be theirs for the taking.

Joe de Ocampo/Indomitable City Soccer

Sacramento Republic arguably got the best draw they could have hoped for to resume the 2020 USL Championship season.

No disrespect whatsoever to their group opponents — Tacoma Defiance, Portland Timbers 2 and Reno 1868 FC, who will make up the bulk of Sac Republic’s opponents in the rest of the regular season schedule — but it really looks clear on paper that Sacramento Republic ought to win the group, and maybe even more.

We know this: The top two teams in each group will go to the playoffs come season’s end, assuming the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t lead to another shutdown, etc. By virtue of having a four-team group instead of a five-team group, Sacramento’s odds of reaching the playoffs go up five percent automatically.

But with some of the other contenders in the Western Conference, particularly Phoenix Rising FC, Orange County SC and defending champ Real Monarchs getting trickier draws on paper, this schedule has the potential for Sac Republic to go beyond merely winning their group — they could set up to be real contenders for the season.

Sacramento Republic have a rather small roster, but in keeping a significant core of their group from 2019, plus adding reinforcements like Kharlton Belmar in attack, Tomas Hilliard-Arce in defense and Adam Grinwis in goal, this was always meant to be a squad that would push for a title this year. Can they do it?

Well, aside from all of the unknowns about our society and coronavirus and players being off for four months in totally unprecedented fashion, all enormous caveats, the path is smoother for Republic FC than any other top-line team in the West. Yes, they have Reno in their group, and I think Reno can push them in the race to finish first in the group. But Reno will be without many or all of their loanees from the San Jose Earthquakes for 2-4 weeks, and I think they were setting up to play those players a lot of minutes in 2020, so they will likely have to adjust.

The same goes for Tacoma and Portland. With both clubs being MLS2 teams, their priorities are fashioned towards the first team, and therefore the young, mostly inexperienced players likely to line up this month won’t have the top performers and occasional loan reinforcements because they will be focused on MLS play in Orlando.

Obviously, all this talk is on paper, but if Sacramento really believe themselves to be title contenders this season, they can and probably should dominate their group first to burnish their credentials. The regional format of the groups left the assignments pretty obvious for most teams, but Sacramento really did get a fantastic draw, and as long as they can avoid injuries, illness and shutdowns, their destiny is fully in their own hands to cruise into the playoffs in 2020 and hopefully, beyond.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.