Republic Stoppage Time: The One I Didn't Attend
NOT SACRAMENTO -- With the Copa America just down the road, I had to skip Saturday's Sacramento Republic FC 3-2 victory over the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros in order to attend what will surely go down as a famous 7-0 win for Chile over Mexico in the quarterfinals.
You might wonder then, why I'm posting about a Republic game that I didn't even attend. A few reasons:
1. This morning I came to the realization that due to a July vacation, I won't actually be able to attend another Republic game until the Saturday Aug. 6 game against San Antonio FC.
2. I hadn't yet posted any photos depicting the Republic's sweet new smoke machines that are set off after every goal.
3. I've attended 10 live games in the past 18 days and need to decompress my discombobulated state of mind through writing.
4. I wanted an excuse to link to my latest Republic Notebook, because I think the fact that the Republic are actively attempting to engage the women's game in the area is an awesome story.
5. Sacramento Republic FC are playing their best soccer since the end of the 2014 season.
About that last note: I called out Republic head coach Paul Buckle just two weeks ago for fielding a team that played objectively boring soccer. As someone who tries to remain as balanced as possible, it wouldn't be fair for me to then not praise him for correcting the ship and somehow guiding the Republic to a 7-3-3 record after a 2-3-1 start while playing excellent soccer.
As recently as earlier this month, fans could be heard making snide remarks about Buckle for boring tactics and sub-par results. Let's be honest, after a championship in the inaugural season, Republic fans are past the "happy-to-be-here" phase of their soccer support. They demand results, deservedly so.
But now, just under halfway through the season, Sacramento stand in second place in the Western Conference with 24 points from 13 games. It seems like I'm doing this every week now, but some notes and statistics from the season that may pique your interest:
Sacramento Republic FC's 7-3-3 start represents the best 13-game start to a USL season from the Republic. Sacramento went 7-4-2 in its first 13 contests in 2014 and 6-6-1 in the same amount of fixtures in 2015.
The seven-game Republic unbeaten streak is now tied for Sacramento's second-longest ever in a single season. Last year, the Republic closed out their year playing the same amount of games without a loss. The record streak is 10 games, set during an 8-0-2 stretch near the end of the 2014 season.
Cameron Iwasa's goal 38 seconds into the match was the fastest goal in Sacramento Republic FC history. It edges out Tommy Stewart's 2nd-minute goal at the Colorado Springs Switchbacks last year in a 3-3 draw that was so crazy that even Ivan Mirković scored (Go to 1:56:30 in this video to view Mirković's strike).
Speaking of Iwasa's early goal, it's just the third first half goal Sacramento have scored this year. Somehow, the Republic have managed to enter the halftime break facing a 0-0 scoreline an insane nine times in 13 games. The other first half goals in 2016: Emrah Klimenta's free kick against LA Galaxy II and Tommy Thompson's penalty against Seattle Sounders FC 2.
After reading that last sentence, I just realized that Iwasa's strike was the first Republic first half goal from open play this year.
Alvarez finally out of the doghouse?
It has been a rough year-and-a-half for Max Alvarez, to say the least. After playing 22 USL games while contributing two goals and seven assists in his first season as a professional in 2014, the Republic midfielder has fallen upon hard times.
Many expected Alvarez to improve on his form in 2014, where he was almost always an automatic starter when healthy, even getting the starting nod in the championship match. Due to injuries and a changing of the guard though, Alvarez played just 13 league games in 2015, starting just seven, while failing to score. He contributed just one assist on the season.
It appeared as if Alvarez would continue to languish on the bench early in 2016, but the 25-year-old played the match of his life in the Republic's 5-0 U.S. Open Cup victory over CD Aguiluchos USA almost exactly a month ago. In addition to scoring a highlight reel free kick, the midfielder set up three of the four other goals in the match.
Buckle used him in the following match, a 1-1 draw with the Swope Park Rangers, giving Alvarez 15 minutes off the bench to make his mark. But after that game, Alvarez failed to register minutes in the three following fixtures.
The Republic manager again used Alvarez Saturday, giving him 10 minutes to show his worth. Though nothing official came from it on the stat sheet, the Republic grabbed a late winner while Alvarez was on the field.
When he went into the season this year, Buckle spoke often about keeping a smaller squad so that everyone could play a part in the season. In conversing with him after the matches, you really do get the sense that Buckle feels bad for the players who don't get off the bench. The cynical mind may assume that Buckle speaking about the players not playing was scripted, especially because no one asked him about it, but the manager emphasized that every player on the team is important after the 2-1 victory over Real Monarchs SLC eight days ago in Reno.
"We've got tremendous characters in the dressing room," Buckle said. "We've got a group that's very much together and with each other. We spoke [in a post-game talk] about the boys that didn't get on the field tonight -- people like [Mackenzie] Pridham and [Alvarez] that didn't get on the field...and Chase Minter and [Matt] LaGrassa. Evan Newton.
"These players are a big part of it," he added. "They're all gonna play a part and I think we have an incredible spirit. We have no heroes so to speak. We're a very workmanlike outfit and the quality is there now."
Fans of Alvarez, and there are many at Bonney Field, should be encouraged by those statements from Buckle coming in the match before the midfielder's recent cameo. It's possible Alvarez was only given this shot because of Daniel Trickett-Smith's continued struggles with a right groin injury, but for Alvarez this is a huge opportunity to show why he deserves to return to his 2014 role as a regular.
I apologize for the truncated piece today, but until August, this is all you're going to get from me as I can't provide a ton of information if I'm not actually at the matches. Expect the columns to grow in length and depth closer to the end of the season.
I'll leave you with this, which adds no actual soccer value to this piece, but hopefully some value to your life. While watching the highlights of Saturday's Republic win, I was entranced by a sideline shot of the Rio Grande Valley FC Toro's bench. Here is a screen shot of the particular image I wish to discuss:
This shot of Toro's coach Wilmer Cabrera came just after Rio Grande tied the game up with a quality finish in the 14th minute. Immediately, of course, my mind raced to the thought of another Toro: Benicio Del Toro.
If Del Toro isn't the celebrity doppelganger for the Toro's coach, then I don't know who is.
That is all. Signing off here from not Sacramento.