Republic Stoppage Time: Fear and Loathing in Reno
RENO -- It finally appears as if Sacramento Republic FC have figured it out on the offensive side of the ball. After some early futility, the Republic have begun banging in the goals and garnering results.
Don't look now, but after Saturday's 2-1 win over Real Monarchs SLC in Reno, the 6-3-3 Republic currently sit in 5th place in the USL's Western Conference, just four points out of 1st place. Sacramento may be in the best form in the entire league, having gone 4-0-2 in their last six games, after previously losing three straight.
The Reno match was a home game for the Monarchs, whose home pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium had its field surface replaced during the Copa America break for Real Salt Lake, forcing their reserve team to compete in eight straight games on the road. For Reno, it was another chance to prepare for Reno 1868 FC's 2017 expansion into the USL.
Now, some notes from the Republic's six-game unbeaten streak and season overall:
After scoring two goals in their first six games, the Republic have scored 10 in their past six.
The Republic's record of 6-3-3 (21 points) through 12 games ranks slightly better than the championship season's record through 12 games in 2014 (6-4-2, 20 points) and last year's record through the same amount of fixtures (6-5-1, 19 points).
Six games without a loss represents the third-longest unbeaten streak for Sacramento in a single season. In 2014, the Republic avoided losses in 10 games in a row towards the end of the season, while in 2015, Sacramento concluded the regular season with seven straight games unbeaten.
Sacramento's defensive record of just seven goals allowed on the season ranks joint second in the USL. The Republic are on pace to allow just 17.5 goals this season.
As for the game itself, the Republic dominated pretty much from start to finish. However, the club found itself behind midway through the game for the third time in the past four games after a well taken goal from Monarchs No. 10 Ricardo Velazco.
In each of those three games, the Republic have fought back to garner a positive result. According to Sacramento head coach Paul Buckle, the character of the team is the reason why this Republic team has been so resilient.
"It took a very good goal to beat us [in the first half] tonight, but we was able to come back and if you're able to come back, it shows you have incredible character," Buckle said after the match in the bowels of Greater America Stadium, while fireworks erupted in the background. "We've got tremendous characters in the dressing room. We've got a group that's very much together and with each other...I think we have incredible spirit. We have no heroes so to speak. We're a very workmanlike outfit and the quality is there now. The quality of the goals is very pleasing. We're on a terrific run in the league, we're on a great run. We want to continue it now."
That win for the Republic came just four days after Sacramento hosted the Monarchs at Bonney Field and beat their rivals from Utah in a hard-fought 1-0 victory. For much of the build-up, and during the play of that match, the conversation focused on the possible time wasting antics of SLC, whose players went down early and often. According to Buckle, who has now beaten the Monarchs twice in 2016 after failing to do so at the helm once in the previous year, there was a verbal sparring match between him and SLC coach Freddy Juarez in stoppage time. According to Buckle, Juarez is guilty of milking the clock as soon as possible during the game in order to kill the match as soon as possible.
"Just at the end [of the match], their coach, I don't know the chap's name, but I did laugh because he was howling for some more time and I said, 'You know, you wanted to waste all that time [in the meeting in 2015 when the Monarchs scored a late equalizer],'" Buckle said. "I was joking and he took it the wrong way. You can't one week not want time and now you want time."
As he continued, Buckle seemingly took the conversation to the next level, calling out Juarez passively-aggressively by saying: "We play the game in the right way. Our players try to score goals all night. We play in the right spirit."
While attempting to find our way out of the depths of Reno's minor league baseball stadium after the interview, Indomitable City Soccer managing editor Josh Beeman exclaimed that he loved Buckle's comments from every game in which the Republic played the Monarchs. It's hard not to agree with Beeman.
In order to get to the interview, Beeman and I had to pass through the 100-plus strong group of Tower Bridge Battalion fans who had made the trip for the match, as shown below:
For the entirety of the game, the Battalion were the most visible and audible show of support for either of the clubs in the match. Buckle's comments echoed this assessment following the game.
"Certainly our fans tonight, getting in their cars or transports to come up here and make it like a home fixture [was amazing]," Buckle said. "It was incredible support...This is a good place to play football. We love coming here. I think [the] Reno people have done a great job and again our supporters travelling is phenomenal."
Of the announced crowd of 5,182, the Battalion stood out for their organized support, which should continue into the following year when Reno becomes the closest USL squad to Sacramento. The roughly 132-mile drive, along with the obvious amenities that Nevada possesses should make for strong road support from Republic fans each time the two teams play. Speaking to Republic vice president and co-founder Joe Wagoner during last Wednesday's game, it was hard not to notice the excitement in his voice of having such a close rival.
"We need a name for it though," Wagoner said." Though the hopeful rivalry is still months from coming to fruition, I took to Twitter last week to ask fans from both sides what the name should be. Here are the best responses I received:
And then my two favorites:
Regardless off what we end up calling the rivalry, I hope it doesn't include much of what I heard during the match. At every goal kick, the Reno 1868 supporters' group, the Battle Born Brigade, utilized the "p-word," as is common with supporters of the Mexican national team. Wherever you may land on the political spectrum, that chant is unquestionably offensive to homosexuals and other minorities, making it one of the most important aspects of soccer to stamp out of the game. Credit the Republic for taking a proactive attitude towards the chant and educating fans on the true meaning of a bit of horrible discrimination that has no place in the beautiful game.
The fact that in 2016, we still have to fight to remove discrimination from seemingly every aspect of our lives, is something that continues to baffle me on a daily basis. Please educate yourselves, Reno 1868 fans.
Reno Nightlife makes for a perfect road trip
Nevada's second city is like a compact, cheaper Vegas, with maybe not as many things to do. But every destination is walk-able, including Greater Nevada Field, which took my friends and I just under 10 minutes to walk to from the centrally-located Eldorado Resort Casino.
Sitting just roughly two hours away, with an exceptional nightlife, Reno will surely become the go-to spot for travelling Republic fans as long as Sacramento remains in the USL.
After the match ended, the Battalion swept around the city. During the time that I may or may not have posted up at the $5 blackjack tables in the city, I saw multiple TBB members roaming around the downtown confines. One even joined us at our table at Circus Circus.
One note of advice for future travelers: don't make any stupid bets.
Oh well, there's always next year to win my money back, when the rivalry will hopefully come into full effect. As always (unless I decide against it), here are some ending notes from Reno:
Adam Jahn, who has now scored two winners for the Republic in four days, wasn't supposed to be available for the match after telling reporters last Wednesday that he was headed back to the Earthquakes for their Tuesday Open Cup game. After the game, Buckle elaborated on the San Jose Earthquakes' loanee situation by saying, "As you know, I've got a really, really good relationship with [San Jose manager] Dominic Kinnear and I suggested to him that maybe Adam should come and play because I don't think Adam's fitness levels are probably where Dominic wants him and the boy's not played a lot so we agreed on sort of 60 minutes." That 60 minutes turned into 68, but the Republic will take any strong play they can get from the Davis native. I couldn't confirm this, but one Republic employee told me that they thought that Jahn flew into Reno from San Jose just for the game.
As has been common lately, one of the Republic's goals Saturday came from wide play from the fullbacks. After scoring the winner via a cross from left back James Kiffe on Wednesday, right back Emrah Klimenta set up Sacramento forward Cameron Iwasa up with the first goal of the night after a trademark bombing run forward. After the match, Josh Beeman asked Paul Buckle about the play of the fullbacks. “You know, when I came to the club, James and Emrah were high up the field, they were attacking fullbacks and it’s no good being up there if you can’t deliver the ball," Buckle said. "We’ve worked tirelessly with the pair of them, tirelessly. It hasn’t come straight away. The goals, the delivery hasn’t come straight away, it’s come over time. It’s come over by being consistent, and we’ve lost games when we haven’t delivered good balls. There was a time when Emrah was hitting them out of the back and James [was as well]. Now they’re putting them in great areas. That’s the key. That’s the benefit of working on the training field day in and day out, keep doing the right things and all of a sudden now, they’re putting in glorious balls, I mean, they are top balls because they’re able to get of the field."
That wraps it up for me from Reno, where I'm sure all of the visiting Republic fans had an excellent time. This week, I return to Copa America duty, where I'm hoping to finally catch Messi in Seattle, along with a USMNT game, before heading to another quarterfinal at the awful Levi's Stadium. Keep enjoying this "Summer of Soccer," people.