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Republic Stoppage Time: Another disappointing result

September 20, 2020

Sacramento Republic FC 3 - Tacoma Defiance 3

Papa Murphy's Park

Sacramento Goalscorers: Villyan Bijev (48), Kharlton Belmar (60), Rodrigo Lopez (90)

Tacoma Goalscorers: Jesus Perez (3), Alec Diaz (66), Ray Serrano (86)

Attendance: 0

With a 3-3 draw against Tacoma Defiance Sunday night at Papa Murphy's Park, Sacramento Republic FC extended their unbeaten streak to nine games.

It's the club's longest unbeaten streak in a single season since finishing 11 unbeaten in 2016 to finish first in the USL's Western Conference last year.

Other than that streak, and a 10-game streak near the end of the 2014 season, this is the longest Sacramento Republic FC have ever gone without losing a game.

And though the Republic have gone 7-1-4 since the league's restart after the COVID-19 shutdown, it hasn't been good enough.

Not according to me, according to the players, and head coach Mark Briggs.

"I don’t have too many words to describe it, it’s extremely disappointing," forward Kharlton Belmar said of the game. "I hold myself to a higher standard I think this group as a whole holds itself to a higher standard and to come out there and allow three goals, again, and give away another crucial three points. It's one of those things you just have to continue to learn from and continue to keep our eyes on the playoffs because that's quickly approaching and we got to get things right to go in on the sharp foot."

Garnering 25 points out of a possible 33 since the restart is obviously very good, but it's not quite good enough when Group A rivals Reno 1868 FC have grabbed 28 in the same timeframe.

Match highlights can be found here. Cameron Salerno's game recap can be found here. All of the good images in this column are thanks to Sacramento Republic FC. Also, a special thanks to Dave Clark, the Tacoma Defiance broadcaster who agreed to take a look at this and possibly future columns. Hopefully there are fewer typos and grammatical errors now!

Onto the storylines:

Playoffs clinched

Before the Republic even kicked off Sunday, they clinched a spot in the USL playoffs for the seventh year in a row thanks to Reno's 3-2 victory over Tacoma Defiance midweek.

The top two teams from each group qualify for the postseason, and with a pair of MLS reserve sides in Tacoma and Portland Timbers 2 in Group A with Sacramento and Reno, it was always likely that the southernmost two teams in the group would move onto the postseason.

For the Republic, it was the seventh time in seven years that the club have qualified for the postseason, and yet it almost feels as if the perception around Sacramento is that this has been something of a disappointing season.

It probably doesn't help that the Republic won the championship in the club's first year in 2014 and set unreasonably high expectations in the process, but the truth is that Sacramento Republic FC is the winning professional sports team that the city has long desired for.

For context, the Sacramento Kings have made the NBA playoffs 10 times in 35 years in the city and have the longest active streak (14 seasons) without an NBA playoff berth. More than half the teams make the playoffs in the NBA every year, by the way.

And yet people are disappointed because Sunday's result almost assuredly means that the Republic will head on the road to Phoenix Rising FC, one of the overall favorites for the title and a team that went on a 20-game win streak last year.

With three matches remaining, Reno sit five points ahead of Sacramento in the standings and own the first tiebreaker of overall wins. To win the group, the Republic will have to win this weekend at Reno and then earn two more points than their biggest rivals in the final two games of the season (at Tacoma on September 30 and vs. Portland on October 3).

It's unlikely, though not impossible.

Early goals again cost Republic

For the fourth time since the league's restart, Sacramento Republic FC gave up a goal in the first five minutes of game Sunday. While the Republic are unbeaten (1-0-3) in these games, they've certainly made life harder on themselves by essentially starting a goal down.

"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.”

The above two paragraphs are exactly what I wrote in last week's Republic Stoppage Time column. I literally just copy/pasted the words and updated the numbers.

That's now six more points and, yes, the Republic would then be in first in Group A.

I don't really know what else to write, so let's hear from the team:

Here's what Briggs said about this time:

"It's on all of us. It's on myself. It’s on the players. We're all in it together. If it continues to happen, I'm the head coach, I take full responsibility and I take full blame. We need to figure it out because it happens every single game. What we talk about in training and what we work on just isn't going in, we are just not starting."

Here's what Belmar said:

"It's something that we've been talking about for the past couple of weeks and for whatever reason it keeps happening. It's extremely disappointing because it’s something we focus on so much before the game, to make sure we start on the right foot and we keep having mental lapses in. If we don't give up these goals in the early stages of the game, wewin these games. It's honestly just devastating and extremely frustrating to continue to let this happen. I am frustrated to the point where I just want to get back on the field and make sure we get this thing right. I want to win and I know this group does too but it's time to stop talking about it and just go out there and do it."

And here's what Hayden Sargis said:

"Like Kharlton said, starting the game early, and not going off with the right foot, it costs us giving up the lead early. Now we're chasing from behind, and that happened two times this season, so maybe come in with a better mindset, but be sharper."

I don't really have anything to add about that, but this is Belmar's body language in the postgame presser before any questions were asked, and though it could have been completely unrelated, I think it says everything about the Republic right now.

Brady Scott gets first professional start

Earlier in the season, Briggs said that goalkeeper Rafa Diaz would be the team's starter after Adam Grinwis went down with an ACL tear. Briggs said that this would be the case regardless of if they brought in another goalkeeper to compete with Diaz.

Things have gone a long way in the USL since the days in 2014 and 2015 in which the Republic dressed just one goalkeeper and apparently defender Emrah Klimenta was to be the back-up in an emergency situation. I'm serious, this is a thing that happened, though unfortunately we never got to see Klimenta in goal.

But anyway, two weeks ago, the Republic brought in Brady Scott, the highly-touted 21-year-old NorCal native, on loan from Nashville SC.

Scott got his first start Sunday after Diaz played an impressive stretch of games, allowing just seven goals in eight games.

Presumably, Scott wasn't brought in just to sit -- it wouldn't make any sense for Nashville to loan him to Sacramento if he wasn't going to get games. I mean, if he wasn't going to get games, he might as well have just stayed in Nashville to train with better players.

Scott was fine on the night. Yes, he let in three goals, but none were particularly his fault and he did come well out of his box to clear the ball late in the second half, preventing a possible break in on goal for Tacoma.

However, is there now a competition between Diaz and Scott, or was Scott just getting minutes because of the nature of the loan? It's, well, unclear after 916 Republic asked exactly that in the postgame presser.

"It's (just) a switch for Rafa tonight," Briggs said. "Part of the loan was about getting Brady minutes, getting Brady some proper minutes and getting him some time. Rafa’s got a few little niggles, problems with his shoulders and back, so we just decided to give him a break, let his body heal a little bit and give Brady some minutes. I thought Brady did well for his first professional game. I thought he handled himself well, he communicated well and couldn't really do much about any of the three goals that were against us."

A few more items:

- The third goal of the match, a rocket from outside of the box, was scored by Rodrigo Lopez. It was his first goal of the season and his first for the Republic since September 12, 2015, more than five years ago. Lopez is playing in a deeper role for Sacramento than he did in his first stint, but the goal gave him 21 regular season goals for the Republic, which I believe ranks second all-time behind Cameron Iwasa's 49.

- Speaking of Iwasa, the Sacramento native was one of two unused substitutes for the Republic Sunday night. Though he has three goals on the season (tied for second place on the team behind Formella's six), Iwasa has recently found himself out of favor with Briggs, presumably for missing a series of clear chances earlier in the season. Late in the game, Briggs opted to bring in a second forward alongside Belmar, but chose new signing Frank Lopez instead of Iwasa. "Frankie came in last time and had an effect on the game and showed some energy, got himself into dangerous areas," Briggs said about the move. "(It was) just a decision. I felt Frankie looked like more of a threat than what I felt Cameron did at the last game and that's why I made that decision tonight."

- When Briggs brought on Lopez, he also brought on defender Tomas Hillard-Arce to move into a back three and push outside backs Juan Barahona and Jordan McCrary (and later Shannon Gomez) higher up the pitch. What resulted was a 3-5-2 formation with a creative midfield trio of academy signing Rafa Juaregui, Rodrigo Lopez, and Jaime Villarreal. "It was just to give us a bit more of a threat higher up the field and play with two center forwards," Briggs said about the switch. "And allow Juan to get higher up the field and allow Jordan and later Shannon to get higher on the field in wide areas. And obviously young Rafa at the end, Jaime and Roro in the middle of the park. Just to give us another look and allow us to get more bodies forward to try and win the game."

- Lastly, for the second time this season, a Sacramento Republic FC defender returned to the squad after a long injury spell. This time it was El Salvador international Juan Barahona, who stepped in for injured starter Ash Apollon. It was the defender's first appearance since the opening game of the season when he provided an assist on Drew Skundrich's goal in a 1-1 draw with FC Tulsa.

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