Republic Time Vault: A Sellout at Hughes
Sacramento Republic FC 1 - Harrisburg City Islanders 2
Sacramento Goalscorers: Adam Jahn (32)
Harrisburg Goalscorers: Robbie Derschang (5), Morgan Langley (52)
Before I get to this week's Republic Time Vault (still a title in progress), I want to post a few links. First, I appeared on the Rise of the Republic podcast last week to speak about a variety of different Sacramento Republic FC and other soccer topics. You can listen to that here.
Host Richard Ivanowski and I discussed Republic defender Hayden Sargis during the podcast. You can read Ivanowski's Sacramento Bee story on Sargis here. Ivanowski thinks I should call this section "Quail Tales," but I'm on the fence because I never really got into that moniker for the Republic. If you have any differing thoughts, feel free to let me know.
Finally, after my last Republic Time Vault column, Bee reporter Cameron Salerno introduced me to the advanced search Twitter page where you can go look back at tweets from specific accounts on specific days. Doing that allowed me to get this photo I took of the teams walking out at Hughes Stadium for the first-ever Sac Republic home game.
So thanks, Cameron! He continues to push out good content on the Republic, including today's story on left back Ash Apollon.
I don't think anyone really knew what to expect heading into the first-ever Sacramento Republic FC home game. Leading into the weekend, I spoke to then Republic president Warren Smith, who told me that he expected to sell out 20,231-seat Hughes Stadium.
But I don't think that anyone actually knew what that meant. When I asked my bosses at the newspaper if I could cover the team for the newspaper, they told me to go to the first game and that was it.
“For our staff and for our team, it’s very exciting to open our doors and show the people of Sacramento the experience we’re trying to create,” Smith told me. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job in developing a plan and a business model that will eventually work and to see our first match at home for the group of people in Sacramento to enjoy the sport at a pretty high level, we think is pretty cool.”
As soon as the club shattered what was then the USL record for single game attendance, though, I was given the green light to cover every game.
I knew something was up as soon as I arrived at Track 7 a few hours before the game. The line for beer was so long that people were literally just grabbing the maximum allowed two beers and then walking to the back of the line to wait while drinking.
I go into more detail about all the challenges of this game and the ultimate payoff in my book, but there's a lot more to it than meets the eye of just hosting a game.
Anticipating the large crowd, I parked at my friend's house in Land Park and rode bikes over to the game.
My friend, who isn't a soccer fan, left the game after 22 minutes, ended up losing his phone on the train tracks, and I didn't hear from him all night, instead just throwing his spare bike over his fence and then driving home.
But that was after the game and after the bike parking people called me saying that I had the only bicycle left in the lot and they wanted to go home. I rushed down from the press box, grabbed it, and then filed my story while leaning on the side of the stadium at 10:00 pm.
In what has now become customary, the Tower Bridge Battalion and other fans had to get across the street from Track 7 to Hughes Stadium for the inaugural match.
While the march has since become much shorter, the original four at Hughes Stadium games required about three blocks of walking and a trek over the overpass that overlooks the horseshoe-shaped Hughes.
Sacramento: Dominik Jakubek, Cristian Gonzalez, Nemanja Vuković, Harrison Delbridge, Jack Avesyan (Chad Bartlomé 89), Max Alvarez (Gilberto 69), Ivan Mirković, Chad Bond (George Fochive 62), Rodrigo Lopez, Thomas Stewart, Adam Jahn.
Harrisburg: Nick Noble, Raphael Cox, Pedro Ribiero (Niel Shaffer 69), Richie Marquez, Colin Zizzi, Jason Pelletier, Matt Bahner, Yann Ekra (Jimmy McLaughlin 80), Robbie Derschang, Morgan Langley (Celsio Bauque 78), Garret Pettis (Edinho Junior 65)
With the record crowd settled, there was only one thing left to do to secure a perfect club launch: win the game.
Harrisburg came into the game winless, while the Republic, in five road games, had posted a 2-2-1 record. With more than 20,000 in the stands, neutrals would have expected Sacramento to put this game away early.
They would lose 2-1, one of just two home league losses on the season.
The Islanders scored just five minutes into the game, but Jesuit alum, Davis native, and San Jose Earthquakes loan player Adam Jahn leveled the game in the 33rd minute with a towering header off of a Max Alvarez free kick.
With all the memories that Sasaki is sharing with me, he's becoming an early contender for MVP of this column.
But unfortunately for Sasaki and Co., the result was not to be as Harrisburg scored again in the second half to take the match via a 2-1 scoreline.
The Republic would, of course, get the last laugh in the USL title game that year, but on this particular night, the City Islanders ruined a party attended by 20,321.
“It went wrong everywhere, difficult night,” Republic FC coach Preki said following the match. “Obviously high expectations, not just because of the incredible crowd that we had, but I always have high expectations for my group. For us to start this game like that, and obviously to start the second half like that, was pretty disappointing I thought.”
“I tried to prepare the group all week, make sure that we keep our feet on the ground and that we’re not too excited and we find a way to deal with the crowd and all the things that are going along around us,” he added. “Obviously, there’s a few players that have played in front of a crowd like this, and that could have played a part. It’s hard for me to say, and that would be just a bad excuse for me. I’m not making excuses right now.”
Added Jahn: “We’re obviously bummed not to get the win, but I’m happy to get a game in and help the team. We need to get you guys a win, so that’s what we’re going to do this week.”
Jahn kept his promise, delivering the winning goal the following week in a 2-1 victory over the Orange County Blues in front of 17,414 at Hughes. That would be the final home USL game that the Republic failed to sell out until well into the Paul Buckle era.
Sacramento may have failed to take any points out of its inaugural home game that April night at Hughes Stadium, but the crowd, the atmosphere, and the arrival of the team completely changed the conversation surrounding soccer in Sacramento from "will this team succeed?" to "can Sacramento be a viable MLS market?"