It was a game that was 431 days in the making, as Sacramento Republic FC took to the field on Wednesday for a competitive match in front of fans at the newly-christened Heart Health Park for the first time in over 14 months.
The wait was worth it, as Sac Republic rolled 3-1 over Las Vegas Lights to open their home schedule for the 2021 season, and everyone spoke highly about the fans in attendance on the night.
“The fans tonight were electric,” said head coach Mark Briggs to reporters postgame. “To consider they’re only 2,300 inside there, it was so loud they were so passionate, it was unbelievable. Just excites me to imagine what it will be when there’s a full house there.”
The team went and thanked the fans after the game, something that is not an altogether unusual occurrence for teams, but on this night, the gesture was far more poignant than usual, after over a year with no fans in the stadium.
“That’s something we’ll do at the end of every game: go over and thank the fans and enjoy the wins with them, you know, it’s hard to win a game, and the fans are a part of that win and the team was a part of that win and we celebrated together,” said Briggs.
While Republic FC never offered the lack of fans in attendance in 2020 as an excuse for uneven play at the time, they did admit after the season that it affected them. It’s little wonder: As one of the very best consistently supported teams in the USL Championship, it’s not surprising they struggled to maintain their energy in a suddenly silent stadium.
“I think I’ll put [the crowd in this game] up there like in the top five for sure, just because of a long year of just COVID and not being able to play in front of fans,” said midfielder Jaime Villarreal, who scored the insurance tally off the bench. “I think it was just big for us to see fans out there for the national anthem and even when they were announcing the starting lineup, it was pretty cool. But I’m not surprised at what the fans will provide for us. I thought today was just amazing, just like they always are and I think if we have that for the remainder of the season I think home will be a big advantage for us.”
Even newcomer Tucker Bone, who scored the winner and grew up in Sacramento, understood the value of the fans for the team.
“It was something special I can’t even imagine. I can’t speak to years past, but I can’t even imagine what Heart Health is going to look like once we start to get more of our fans back in the stadium, it is really going to give us that edge and you know make the opponents feel under even more pressure. It was it was really cool. I was definitely enjoying myself after the game, you know, going over the fan section and cheering with them and dancing around and stuff,” Bone said.
There will likely come a point again when fans in attendance won’t be special anymore, it will just be commonplace, and to a degree, it probably should be, that would mean things are “normal” in the community again.
But for at least one night, Sac Republic’s fans offered as big a lift to the players as the players did back to the fans.
“You got to cherish those moments when we come out victorious, especially on our home field and so you know to give to give our fans that win, to start the season with six points, that’s huge for us,” said Bone. “We’re gonna make it a point this season to defend our home turf and give our fans and give Sacramento what they deserve.”
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