The Sacramento Republic newcomers have been fully briefed on what happened last season.
To a man, the players interviewed by reporters at training on Friday all said they were well-versed in the heartbreaking end to SRFC’s season at the hand — literally — of Phoenix Rising in the playoffs last year.
“There’s a lot of bad blood between the two teams after last year, so coming in as a new guy, I’ve been told about it,” defender Dan Casey said. “Sort of feels like a derby, so looking forward to it.”
Goalkeeper Tomas Gomez is familiar with Phoenix Rising already as an opponent, but says he knows the import of this rematch to Sacramento.
“I actually played in the Western Conference a few years ago and played against Phoenix. I saw how they’re the ‘hotshots’ of the league, so makes it that much more interesting playing them,” Gomez said.
“It’s our job to defend this and make it very, very difficult to play against us and make it almost impossible to get three points. [Last year’s playoff loss] is just added motivation going into this match,” he added.
Head coach Mark Briggs, however, balanced the rematch angle a bit, while still acknowledging the last meeting between the teams is still in Republic FC’s minds.
“We prepare like any other game. We prepare, we make sure the focus is right, we make sure the players understand what we want to do tactically and what we think they’re going to throw at us from a tactical and personnel standpoint,” Briggs said.
“Obviously last season, there’s always going to be that little bit of animosity based on how our season ended. So that adds a little extra to it, but we’re not focused on that. That happened, that’s part of the game, we’re just preparing to face a very good team and try and get three points in front of our fans.”
One of the themes of the week for Sac Republic was grinding and fighting as a group. It seems Briggs has been preaching a killer instinct in all facets over the early weeks of the season.
“It’s great, it’s what you want,” said Casey. “If you’re in a club where everyone has the same goal, to win all the time, it’s going to make it a good environment to be in and everyone demands high standards from each other. On the pitch especially, you want to do the best for each other.”
And while Briggs admitted he would like to play beautiful soccer, the first aim in a buzzsaw of the Pacific Division in 2021 is to do whatever it takes to win, something that’s filtering through to the players.
“At the end of the day it’s all about three points. As much as everybody strives to play pretty footy, at the end of the day you’re just trying to win,” Gomez said.
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