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Republic Stoppage Time: The Letdown

September 12, 2020

Sacramento Republic FC 3 - Reno 1868 FC 3

Papa Murphy's Park

Sacramento Goalscorers: Sam Werner (5), Dariusz Formella (32), Jaime Villarreal (73)

Reno Goalscorers: Foster Langsdorf (2), Kevin Partida (67), Aidan Apodaca (90+)

Attendance: 0

Playing against their biggest rivals, Sacramento Republic FC were just a few minutes from clinching a playoff spot for the seventh consecutive season Saturday night at Papa Murphy's Park.

The Republic put together perhaps their best attacking display of the season and were well on their way to winning a club record seventh straight game, taking complete control of USL Championship Group A, and downing Reno 1868 FC for the third time this year.

Instead, a late stoppage time goal from Reno's Aidan Apodaca saw the controversial game end in a 3-3 draw, with the two sides splitting the points.

"(We) played well, we were the better team, but we have to learn," head coach Mark Briggs said following the game. "It’s not good enough to keep saying, ‘next time, next time.’ No, there’s not a next time, there’s that 90 minutes and we should have won the game. But we gave two points away and instead of walking away with three points, we walked away with one point. I chose not to speak to the guys. They need to learn. This hurts. I’m furious. This hurts.”

Added forward Kharlton Belmar: “I think we just have to play out the whole game. We’ve done very well to make it to like the 95th minute and then we slip up with a couple of seconds left and give the game away. I think it’s about playing all the way through and playing to the final whistle and staying engaged all the way through and making sure we close things out. I think there were a couple of mistakes here and there throughout the game. I don’t think we should have given up a goal tonight, but things happen and like coach said, and we’ve been saying all year, we’ve just gotta continue to learn from these things and continue to try and make progress and we will do that.”

Match highlights can be found here. Cameron Salerno's game recap can be found here. And if you're wondering why the photos in this column are actually good this week instead of random iPhone shots of the stands/smoke, that's because my former Davis Enterprise colleague, Owen Yancher, was on site to shoot this game. Give him a follow as he comes out to the odd Republic game to take photos.

On with the storylines:

Playoffs not clinched yet, weird scenarios for the rest of Group A

Had the Republic taken care of business, this section would be much different and Sacramento would control their destiny for the rest of the season. Instead, the Republic and Reno left this game tied at the top of Group A with 25 points each.

The group standings currently look like this:

The Republic are going to make the playoffs, that's not in question. Reno are going to make the playoffs, that's not in question. The question is: which team will top the group, earn a home playoff game, and avoid Group B giants Phoenix Rising FC.

On Wednesday, Briggs said that he wasn't afraid of any team in the league, and that may be true, but the road just got a whole lot tougher for Sacramento after this draw given the tiebreakers in the USL.

Yes, the Republic play Reno again on September 26 in Reno, but even if they win that game, the result may not matter. The first tiebreaker in the USL is total wins, meaning that if Sacramento win their remaining four games, they'll finish with 11 wins. If Reno win every game except for their game against the Republic, they'll finish with 12 wins.

It's simple: Sacramento need Reno to drop points somewhere else and probably beat them in Nevada in two weeks.

Here is the Republic's remaining schedule:

Here is Reno's remaining schedule:

For reference, Las Vegas have won just two games all year, one against the Tacoma Defiance and one against Orange County SC.

The officiating

Following the match, much of the talk surrounded the officiating during the game. After leading 2-1 in the second half, Sacramento gave up an equalizer in the 67th minute to Reno's Kevin Partida that came from the spot.

Was it a penalty? Well, yes, it was, because the referee called it. But that didn't stop Republic Twitter from exploding anyway.

The of Shannon Gomez taking down a Reno 1868 FC player wasn't shown in the match highlights, but we watched it a few times in the "press box" and it looked like a 50-50 call. Did the player go down easy? Yes. But was Gomez also making a challenge in the box while Reno was going away from goal? Also yes.

Furthermore, Sacramento potentially got away with a Jordan McCrary handball off of the line shortly thereafter.

I'm not 100 percent sure upon watching this if it hits McCrary in the hand, but this non-call went the Republic's way. The Gomez call didn't. You win some and you lose some, but the fact remains that neither would have been something we're talking about right now if Sacramento had just put away their chances.

Briggs was asked about the officiating by SB Nation's Alicia Rodriguez following the game.

“Alicia, I think you’re trying to get me fined, aren’t you? I have to be careful what I say," he said. "I felt the game could have been managed better by my team and what I mean by that is certain actions that allow for officials to then make decisions. We can’t put ourselves in a position (for the referee) to make a decision. I think I’ll leave it at that. I would love to say a lot more, Alicia, but I’m having to bite my tongue and it’s really hard.”

I know that Briggs probably would have said something else without the threat of financial repercussions, but I love the part about not wanting to put yourself in the position for the referee to make a decision like that. You can control what you do on the field. You can't control what the referee does. Simple as that.

Belmar continues to impress

One of the storylines of the season so far has been the lack of production at the No. 9 spot for Sacramento Republic FC.

Sacramento all-time leading goalscorer Cameron Iwasa has started most of the season up top and has 51 career USL goals, but has managed just three goals so far this year, one coming from the penalty spot.

In the past couple of games, Iwasa has missed a pair of chances that one would expect someone with his quality to finish.

Trailing 1-0 at the half midweek to Orange County SC, the Republic took off Iwasa and inserted Belmar, who has 45 career USL goals to his name, but none so far this season.

Belmar set up the equalizing goal Wednesday, then provided two more assists Saturday to take his total to four on the season.

Though he didn't score, the attack appeared more dynamic with the speedy attacker on the field and club leading goalscorer Dariusz Formella has now profited twice from Belmar feeds in as many games.

“I thought he was fantastic for us Wednesday night when he came in for us in the second half and he carried on the momentum from Wednesday into tonight," Briggs said after the match. "I thought he was brilliant from start to finish. I thought he held the ball up, he spun his man, he got in behind, he put them on the back foot. He did everything that you want out of your No. 9, I just wish that he could have got that goal in the first half when he had that opportunity and it deflected just wide of the goal. I was really pleased for him."

Giving up early goals, a habit?

For the third time since the league's restart, Sacramento Republic FC gave up a goal in the first five minutes of game Saturday. While the Republic are unbeaten (1-0-2) in these games, they've certainly made life harder on themselves by essentially starting a goal down.

This time the damage was done on a set piece, with Reno's Foster Langsdorf scoring an unmarked header off a free kick that came from a relatively safe place on the field.

"We have to figure it out. It continues to happen. Like I said, there’s no time to keep making excuses," Briggs said about the early deficits. "There’s no excuses for not marking your man in the first (five minutes of the game), not being near your man, that’s unacceptable. Certain things that happened tonight are unacceptable and that’s why we came away with one point instead of three...If you have any ideas on how to fix it, let me know.”

Lopez debuts

Wearing "Frankie" on the back of his No. 7 jersey, potentially to avoid confusion with club legend Rodrigo Lopez, new Sacramento forward Frank Lopez made his debut for the Republic Saturday night after arriving on loan from the OKC Energy.

The stocky Cuban forward, who has 28 career USL goals, played 12 minutes off of the bench, made a few runs in behind and generally looked active on and off the ball.

Only time will tell whether or not he will make the impact Sacramento desires, but at the very least, he appears to provide a different look than Iwasa and Belmar -- Lopez is a much more physical player and nearly started a scuffle by sliding into Reno goalkeeper Ben Beaury.

“I think, obviously, we’ve gotta get Frank fit and we’ve gotta get Frank fit pretty quickly, I think you could all see that," Briggs said. "But I think he just brings an intensity, he brings a work rate, he brings an aggression. I think you saw him slide in with a goalkeeper. I think he ruffles feathers on opposition teams. He’s not a nice guy. He’s a nice guy off the field, but when he goes on the field, he’s not a nice guy. We need more of that. I was happy with Frank and what he contributed for the 15 minutes he was on and I think there’s a lot more to come from him.”

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