Republic Stoppage Time: Rounding Into Form
Before I get to the above image, I'd like to give a shout out to Sacramento Republic FC head coach Paul Buckle. If you've read this column before, you'll know that I've been critical of him at times (as required by my job), but my condolences go out to Buckle and his family after the recent passing of his father, Johnny.
To Buckle's credit, not only did he win an important match Saturday, but he fielded questions in the longest post-game press conference that I can remember (roughly 11 minutes) to this date. This was all after spending much of the week in the United Kingdom to spend time with his father during his father's last hours.
I'm told that Johnny Buckle suffered from dementia for quite some time, leading to some relief from Paul Buckle now that it's finally over as he explained in the press conference.
"I don't think it's quite sunk in yet, to be honest," Buckle told reporters after the match. "It's been a crazy day...It's been a hellish week, but I'm pleased...my father has passed because dementia is a cruel illness.
"This is the only club in my whole career as a player and a coach that he's not been to, so that's a disappointment for me, that he could never come to Sacramento because he would have loved this, he would have loved the atmosphere."
I've never lost a parent -- and I certainly haven't gone out and faced a scrum of reporters shortly after -- so I can't imagine how tough this must have been for Buckle. I'm glad he was so open about it though, and before the recorders were turned on, there were some very human moments between the reporters and Buckle.
I think that sometimes when we're in the heat of things during and after match, sometimes we forget that real life exists outside of soccer. This served as a sobering reminder of that simple truth. I don't pretend to speak for the entire Republic community, but our heart goes out to you, Paul Buckle. I'm glad we, and 11,569 others, got to share a moment of silence before the match to remember Johnny Buckle.
And now onto the match, a 4-0 victory over Portland Timbers 2.
One of the reasons I love soccer atmospheres is because of the above image. This photo was taken by Republic fan Scott McMurray shortly before the conclusion of the match. I'm told this fan's name is Eli and that my personal friend, Jon Dugger, housed him for this trip.
In no particular order, here is why this is awesome:
Eli waved that Cascadia flag for 90 minutes by himself. If you've ever waved a flag that big during a soccer game, you know that it's a physically exhausting exercise.
Not only did Eli travel to an away game roughly 580 miles away from Portland, but he did so to support his reserve team, who, by the way, aren't good. Portland currently sit in second-to-last place in the Western Conference with 25 points from a 7-13-4 record.
Dugger told me that when the Tower Bridge Battalion makes road trips to Portland, Eli helps them out. I'm all for intense rivalries and vicious back-and-forth chants from supporters, but sometimes it's cool to see fans come together in a friendly manner. I'm told the Battalion bought Eli plenty of beers for his efforts.
On the field, let's get back to the photo that led the column (I'll give you some time to scroll up again). For some reason, my gamer hasn't gone online yet, so no link to it just yet.
As Paul Buckle said after the game, 2-0 is a dangerous scoreline in soccer (see Bonney, Miracle at). That being said, I felt the need to snap that sucker at halftime because it was just the first time at Bonney Field all season that the Republic scored multiple goals in the first half of a game.
And for just the second time of the season, Saturday night, Sacramento scored multiple first half goals. The last time came in last week's wild 4-3 victory over St. Louis FC. After failing to score in the first half in 16 of the first 22 matches of the season, the Republic have now scored five first half goals in the last two games.
Here are some other relevant numbers:
In the first 22 games of the season, the Republic scored just 26 goals. In the past two, they've scored eight. Before the St. Louis match, Sacramento were on pace to finish the season with 35.5 goals. They're now on pace to finish it with 42.5.
Before the last two games, the Republic had never scored more than three goals in a USL match under Paul Buckle. They accomplished this three times under Preki.
Sacramento have now scored 11 first half goals and 23 second half goals.
Conversely, the Republic have conceded just six first half goals and 18 second half goals.
The 17 total first half goals in Republic games have led to 13 scoreless first halves.
Sacramento are unbeaten in five straight matches.
With a goal Saturday night, Cameron Iwasa became the third Republic player to strike for double digit goals in the season. Rodrigo Lopez (10 each season) did it in 2014 and 2015 and Tommy Stewart (11) managed the feat in 2014. Iwasa, who is already the Republic's fourth all-time leading USL goalscorer, needs just one more goal to tie Stewart's single-season goal record.
Danny Barrera picked up his league-leading 8th assist of the season Saturday, tying him with Lopez (2014) for the single season Republic record. Barrera would have more assists, but unlike MLS, the USL doesn't give out second assists.
As I'm typing this, the 11-6-7 Republic currently sit at the top of the Western Conference, which seems unfathomable after all the early-season negativity.
Let's discuss Iwasa. Nearly all season, the Republic have been looking for a goalscorer, and it appears as if they've found one. After tallying just one USL strike last year, Iwasa has come out of nowhere to post a 10-goal season. His 10th wasn't exactly pretty, as Timbers 2 goalkeeper Wade Hamilton initially saved Iwasa's breakaway opportunity only for the ball to bounce of the forward towards the net.
Iwasa simply tapped the ball across the line with his stomach to give the Republic a 2-0 lead just before halftime. Because he only scored on his second attempt, Danny Barrera's perfect through ball wasn't credited as an assist.
"[Timbers 2] were playing a high line the whole game so we made them pay for it," Iwasa told reporters after the match. "I was actually going for the nutmeg, but [Hamilton] did a pretty good job of keeping his legs closed. I got a fortunate bounce and I think that's the first time I've ever scored in my life with my stomach. I'll take them anyway I can get them."
Added Buckle: "Maybe the goal Cam gets, he's got to learn to take the ball around the goalkeeper, something he's got to add to his game, but he looked strong again...I think Cameron's game has come on [lately]. I really do."
Just three minutes after halftime, Tommy Thompson scored the goal that Buckle thought Iwasa should have, taking down a Barrera through ball and rounding Hamilton to tap the ball into an empty net.
After also setting up the first goal, Thompson now has three goals and three assists in 10 matches for the Republic this season. As Matt Doyle tweeted after the assist: "TomThom is starting to put it together in the final third. Quakes could use a guy like that."
It's hard not to agree with him and Republic fans will surely hope that Thompson stays with the club, but for now they'll enjoy the creative attacking play.
Thompson's goal caused the Battalion to erupt in chants of "You're not Gleeson," directed towards Hamilton, who picked the ball out of the back of the net in front of the Battalion's north goal section.
Gleeson, of course, is Jake Gleeson, now the Timbers' starting goalkeeper, and formerly the Republic's starter during the 2014 championship year.
Eight minutes before time, new signing Wilson Kneeshaw opened his Republic account just 13 minutes into his debut, grabbing the fourth and final goal. With Kneeshaw scoring, Iwasa close to a goal record, Thompson impressing, EPL veteran Carlton Cole on his way, in addition to the attacking options of Harry Williams, Mackenzie Pridham, and fellow new signing Christian Chaney, Paul Buckle will have his hands full in selecting the team down the stretch.
"I have to remain focused on what's important and it's important to pick the right team," Buckle said when I asked him about the selection dilemmas after the match. "That's my job, that's what I'm paid to do. I'm not interested in, I said at the start of the season, we want to have 20-plus heroes at the club. I'm not interested in one or two superstars in teams. Even Carlton will know that when he comes in. We've got a team here. We've got a very good team and I'll pick the team on merit. I'll pick it on merit."
Talk about a job I wouldn't want to have, but I suppose more options are better than fewer. I'll leave you with the below. I know that the media landscape is changing, but apparently it's chill just to have beers in the Bonney Field "press box" during the game. No, these are not mine, and no, I don't think this is professional, but cheers to the dudes who are clearly enjoying the matches more than me.
You're welcome for the Dutch Angle. See you all at Bonney Field next Saturday.