Sacramento Republic FC played a four-man backline throughout the 2020 season, but to kick off the 2021 campaign, they changed things up and went with a three-man central defense.
Newcomer Dan Casey, returning newcomer Mitchell Taintor and converted midfielder Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu manned the central defense against LA Galaxy II, with newcomer Duke Lacroix and Shannon Gomez serving as wingbacks for Sacramento’s defense. Coming as it did in a 1-0 road win, obviously the initial return was positive for Mark Briggs and his team.
The change was not altogether unexpected, as Briggs had discussed revamping the formation in preseason. And while he had talked about Wheeler-Omiunu playing center back in preseason I thought that was more a “get some minutes in an exhibition game just in case you need to put him there in a pinch” scenario than a full-blown position switch. I was wrong.
But with the offseason upgrades in defense and midfield, it makes some sense to make some tweaks this season. The midfield on paper is absurdly deep, so moving AWO back a line does not really take away from the midfield’s depth, honestly. And while 2020 breakout player Hayden Sargis didn’t see the field on opening night, there will be chances for him as the season gets into gear, especially with an additional center back spot opening up for the foreseeable future.
However, it’s worth noting one sign of caution before declaring the five-man defense an unqualified success. Sacramento looked rusty in attack in their opening game, but so did Galaxy II, and in their second game, LA blew Las Vegas Lights away 5-0. Perhaps the Sac Republic defense stymied Los Dos so much that they looked awful, but to me it looked like they shook the rust off in their second game. It will be interesting to see how other opponents do against the new SRFC defense when they’re in form, and if the new system both solidifies the back while also springing Republic FC to get more scoring chances going forward, too.
So, one week in, it’s looking good. Beyond that? We’ll see, but it will be interesting to see how this group coalesces as the games start to pile up and we see more minutes in this new-look backline. Time will tell.
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