Sacramento Republic FC are officially in the 2020 USL Championship Playoffs, after results elsewhere helped them clinch midweek. Now what?
The first benchmark is cleared, but there’s still plenty to play for:
Winning the group
Sac Republic are in, but they’re 2nd place in Group A, with Reno 1868 FC leading by three points in 1st place. The teams will play next Saturday in a group decider, with Sacramento likely needing to win outright in that game, and Republic FC will likely need to win out and have Reno drop points in at least another game.
Suffice it to say, SRFC are on the outside looking in, but they still very much have hope they can win the group, especially with the huge Donner Pass Derby clash coming.
Why is winning the group important? Beyond bragging rights, of course, the winner of the group will host the 2nd place finisher in Group B in the playoffs. 2nd place in Group A, meanwhile, will have to travel to the winner of Group B, almost certainly to be Phoenix Rising, in the postseason. Given their druthers, I think pretty much every team would prefer to host a playoff game and avoid Phoenix for a round, so the group win is pretty massive here.
Get ready to peak for the playoffs
I imagine a few teams that qualify for the playoffs in the coming weeks will take their feet off the gas pedal a little bit, and in some contexts, that may be warranted. Not for Sacramento Republic, however.
Sacramento’s group has turned out to be very easy, and even with the favorable draw, there’s been stumbles along the way. That’s strange to say considering they’ve lost just once this year and are currently on an eight-game unbeaten run, but the wild 3-3 draw against Reno last week was a data point that the defense is still shaky at times, even with the impressive run. Combining that with early goals conceded several times this season, several more games to really lock into form in the back will do the squad good, provided everyone stays healthy.
At the same time, the attack is clicking now but they don’t seem to have hit their ceiling yet. Kharlton Belmar has been an excellent facilitator but the marksman hasn’t scored yet this season, remarkably. Cameron Iwasa has had a few key moments but only has three goals in 2020, and even leading scorer Darek Formella has run hot and cold. These four games can be key to help the team tune up for the business end of the season, and avoiding mental lapses in the homestretch will be vital.
Finding the best XI and bench
He’s never said it outright, but there’s a feeling that Republic FC head coach Mark Briggs is still trying to figure out his ideal starting XI. Aside from injuries, defense seems to be settled, but the depth in midfield and attack means there’s been a good deal of shuffling week to week.
It’s certainly nice to have options, no coach would begrudge that. But with the playoffs being single elimination all the way through, as per usual in the USL Championship, you don’t have the luxury of trying stuff out in one leg and then adjusting for the return leg. It’s one game and you have to be on your game for that 90 (or 120) minutes. That means you need the right combination of guys ready to go and in form together.
Will Briggs find that ideal XI? Again, options are good, but an XI in the groove is the goal. It will be interesting to see the lineup options in the final four games as Sacramento gear up for the postseason.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.