Republic Time Vault: Bonney Field Opening Day
Sacramento Republic FC 4 - Colorado Rapids Reserves 3
Sacramento Goalscorers: Justin Braun (20), Rodrigo Lopez (39, 42)
Colorado Rapids Goalscorers: Danny Mwanga (14), Gabriel Torres (50), Charles Eloundo (55)
In the grand scheme of things, I don't think many Sacramento Republic FC fans remember that much about the opening game at Bonney Field in 2014.
That year was such a big year for the club, the city, and the sport for a variety of different reasons, but when people look back on it, this game doesn't feature among the top three memories of 2014. Those are, in some order, the first Republic game at Hughes Stadium, The Miracle at Bonney, and the USL title game.
What's crazy though: everything about this game. It was probably the best game the Republic were involved in in 2014. Everyone remembers The Miracle at Bonney, probably me more than anyone else because I wrote a whole chapter about it in my book, but what they don't remember: that game secretly wasn't that good.
Seriously, go watch it again. It's on YouTube. That game had drama, an incredible comeback, and some amazing off-the-field storylines with MLS in town. The actual game, though: not good.
But this one, this was a hell of a game, and no one remembers it like it deserves to be. All images curtesy of Sacramento Republic FC and Brent Sasaki.
The Buildup (literally)
On the same day as a World Cup quadruple-header (Colombia-Greece, Ivory Coast-Japan, Uruguay-Costa Rica, England-Italy) Sacramento Republic FC opened up the then-Bonney Field with a match against the Colorado Rapids Reserves.
After just a few months of construction and four home games at Hughes Stadium, Sacramento was finally ready for a proper venue, an 8,000-seat stadium built specifically for soccer.
The project cost the club and their partners somewhere around $4 million. A more detailed account of the events will run in my book, but essentially the Republic lucked into a perfect situation at Cal Expo.
“You have to realize, the challenge of building a new stadium is the overall cost,” then Republic president Warren Smith told me for the book. “At Cal Expo, we didn’t have to put gates up, we didn’t have to build parking, they had some restrooms, they had some stands. So it lowered the overall project cost, to make it feasible, honestly...A lot of people don’t really consider the overall costs. If you look at building stands, if you look at parking lots, they’re immensely expensive, just because of the amount of space you need for the cars. But to have some gates, to have some restrooms, to have the infrastructure, sewer, water, electrical, that was huge. We had to run some lines to tap in, but we didn’t have to create new infrastructure. Honestly, that project, if we had to do all of that, would have been over $10 million.”
The stadium was originally scheduled to make its debut June 7 in a match against Arizona United SC, but a few delays pushed back the inaugural game to the June 20 date against the Colorado Rapids Reserves.
Side note: that game against Arizona United SC featured one of my favorite postgame interactions ever with a player. Chad Bartlome, a little-used forward, scored an equalizer for the Republic in stoppage time to give Sacramento a point. After the game, I asked him how it felt. He said, "it felt great."
Then we just looked at each other for what felt like a minute but was probably 10 seconds.
Anyway, in 2014, part of the USL schedule mandated that each team play MLS reserve sides in two matches that counted in the USL standings and even though MLS reserve teams only played USL teams, they still kept their own standings for some reason. I don't know. The next year, MLS just fully integrated reserve teams into the league.
On this night, the Republic were playing their second and final MLS reserve team of the season -- the first USL win in club history came in a 3-1 victory at the Chivas USA Reserves. Bofo played for Chivas that day. I'm not kidding.
The lineups and notes
Colorado Rapids Reserves – Joe Nasco (John Berner 45); Thomas Piermayr, Gale Agbossoumonde, Grant Van De Casteele, Chris Klute (Edna O’Neil 76), Marlon Hairston (Miles Chow 72), Jared Watts, David Armstrong (Kortne Ford 30), Charles Eloundou, Gabriel Torres, Danny Mwanga.
Sacramento Republic FC – Jake Gleeson; Emrah Klimenta, Mickey Daly, Harrison Delbridge (Jack Avesyan 66), Nemanja Vuković; Steven Evans (Mike Fucito 45), George Fochive, Max Alvarez (Octavio Guzman 63), Rodrigo Lopez; Adam Jahn (Chad Bartlomé 70), Justin Braun.
I have so many notes here, because looking back at this, this was one of the strangest lineups fielded at a Republic game. I'm just talking about the XI the Rapids put out too. Consider that:
- Goalkeeper Joe Nasco has one of the strangest stat lines in MLS history. On the surface, it looks like he played in four games, all later that year for the Rapids, and allowed seven goals. Not horrible, not good. Look into his game logs, though, and there is true greatness. After making his first start that August in a 1-0 loss against Seattle in which he made five saves, Nasco set the record for fastest red card in league history the next game. Here he is getting sent off after 34 seconds in a 6-0 loss against the LA Galaxy. HIs next outing: a 5-1 loss to Real Salt Lake in the Rocky Mountain Cup. He was out of MLS after 2014.
- Then 22-years-old, one-time USMNT cap earner Gale Agbossoumonde started in this game for the Rapids after playing the previous two years for Toronto FC. Look at the clubs he played for on his Wikipedia page as direct evidence of why it's a bad idea to sign your player rights over to third parties.
- Our second full international in this lineup is Gabriel Torres, who scored against the USMNT the previous year in a World Cup qualifier. Torres, still just 31, was in Panama's squad for the 2018 World Cup and had an okay, but not great, stint in MLS with the Rapids. He was a fairly underwhelming Designated Player signing but he did manage 10 goals in 55 games and scored in this game.
- Opening the scoring at Bonney Field, though, was former No. 1 overall MLS SuperDraft pick Danny Mwanga. The Oregon State alum scored 15 goals in MLS and was out of pro soccer by the time he was 25.
- Lastly, there's the player of Charles Eloundou, who you've definitely never heard of before. He played once for Cameroon in 2013 and now, at the ripe old age of 25, is plying his trade in Cyprus. I don't know, it's just weird that a guy, who made an appearance for the Cameroon senior team the year before, played and scored in this game.
- Oh and for the Republic, Mike Fucito scored the winner and then literally never played for Sacramento ever again. There's a longer story to this but basically the Earthquakes, whom Fucito was on loan from, expected him to play for the Republic without training with them. The Republic, and Preki, did not expect this. The relationship strained between the two (Sacramento never wanted to affiliate with the Earthquakes anyway) and eventually Reno became the Quakes' USL affiliate.
You can watch highlights of the game here. For some reason, they're overdubbed with crappy music and I think that may be because this game didn't have a broadcast team on it? I'm not sure, I only know that we sat on the field level because the press box might not have been completed yet.
Update, broadcaster Rob McAllister shed some light on this:
No one closed down Danny Mwanga as he basically waltzed between four Republic defenders to score the first goal in the stadium's history, but Sacramento would have the last laugh on the night.
Team captain Justin Braun scored on a towering header to go along with a brace from Rodrigo Lopez and the aforementioned late winner from Mike Fucito in his farewell game with the club. The first Lopez goal is one to show to the youth players just for the composure that it took to pick up his head, get Nasco on the ground, and finish with a defender on the line.
Because the game took place on a Friday and we didn't have a Saturday paper, I apparently didn't write a story about this game so I don't think I have any postgame quotes, but here's what head coach Preki said on the team website: “From a fan’s perspective, it was a great evening, seven goals scored and we came out on top. It was great we found a way to get three points, an important three points.”
Memories from Brent
I might as well name this section after Brent Sasaki because every time I ask Twitter for their memories, he always provides a multitude. Here's what the former Republic staffer had from this game:
Maybe Brent should just be writing these, he's clearly documented everything much better than the rest of us. But seriously, Brent, thanks for the memories!