Republic Stoppage Time: 425 Days
Four-hundred and twenty-five days. That's how long it was between Sacramento Republic FC's March 7, 2020 1-1 home draw against FC Tulsa and last night's 3-1 victory over the Las Vegas Lights at Heart Health Park in Sacramento. That's how long it was between the last time that Republic fans were allowed to watch their team play at home.
For comparison, there were 509 days between Sacramento's December 2012 USL expansion announcement and the first home game in 2014. It's been a while.
And though only 2,313 spectators were allowed in (representing roughly 20 percent capacity), it was another step in the direction of normalcy, one the players and staff aren't taking for granted.
"The fans tonight were electric. To consider that there were only 2,300 inside there, it was so loud, they were so passionate, it was unbelievable," said head coach Mark Briggs. "(It) just excites me to imagine what it will be like when there's a full house...the fans are a part of (this) win and the the team was a part of (this) win and we celebrated together."
Jaime Villarreal has played in a multitude of big games for the Republic since arriving in 2018. He's also participated in several in Sacramento as a member of the LA Galaxy II, including the Miracle at Bonney. The club's sixth all-time leader in games played was asked after the game how the atmosphere ranked.
"I think I'll put it up there in the top five for sure, just because of a long year of COVID and not being able to play in front of fans," he said. "I'm not surprised at what the fans will provide for us."
Added new signing Tucker Bone, an area native: "It was something special...I can't speak to years past, but I can't even imagine what Heart Health is going to look like once we start to get more fans back in the stadium."
Onto the game that was (all photos that don't suck courtesy of Sacramento Republic FC):
May 12, 2021
Sacramento Republic FC 3 - Las Vegas Lights 1
Heart Health Park
Sacramento Goalscorers: Dariusz Formella (13), Tucker Bone (65), Jaime Villarreal (72)
Las Vegas Goalscorers: Danny Musovski (52)
Behind a goal and an assist from 2020 leading goalscorer Dariusz Formella, the Republic defeated division rivals Las Vegas Lights 3-1 to move to the top of the Pacific Division with a perfect six points from two games. That's pretty much all the game action I'm going to provide. Here's the Republic's recap of the match. There's also this one from Indomitable City Soccer. Also, you can watch the highlights here.
The Back Three (Five?)
This is my incredible drawing of how the Republic lined up in possession last night. Whether this is a 5-4-1, a 3-4-2-1, a 3-4-3, or my personal favorite, a 3-6-1, doesn't really matter. I'm paraphrasing but before the season, Mark Briggs told a few reporters something about not getting caught up in the system but instead focusing on the principles.
This was a slightly different look than the opening game of the season where Kharlton Belmar and Cameron Iwasa started up top with three central midfielders in behind. Last night, Belmar played the No. 9 with Dariusz Formella and Tucker Bone just behind him. They both stayed narrow to allow wingbacks Shannon Gomez and Duke Lacroix to get high and wide. Regardless of the formation, I think that getting that width from Gomez and Lacroix (or Jordan McCrary) is something the Republic will rely on this year. So far, so good. Gomez has assisted goals in each of the first two games and Lacroix has been dangerous on the other side. Together, they've been two of the best players for Sacramento in 2021.
Here's a photo I took of roughly how it looked when Sacramento had the ball. Lacroix is higher than every Republic player except Belmar, and Gomez is nearly at the halfway line on the far side.
Regardless of the system, one of Briggs' principles is to get the width from his wingbacks to create numbers up situations in the attack. "I think that their understanding is getting better with each game, each training session," Briggs said of the two. "Overall, I'm happy with where they're at."
- This is an incredibly physically taxing role so it will be interesting to see if Gomez and Lacroix, who have both played every minute of the season, can continue bombing forward and recovering defensively without getting hurt or burnt out. If either does have to miss time, 2020 minutes leader Jordan McCrary should be able to deputize fairly well, but after that? I don't know. I've heard good things about academy product Erik Centeno but never really seen him play. Sacramento are 2-0-0, but I wonder how deep this team is.
- How does Shannon Gomez only have two caps? Even Trevin Caesar got 15 for Trinidad and Tobago. That federation is a mess right now, but they could definitely use a player of Gomez's quality.
What happened on the second goal?
This is a screenshot taken right before Sacramento's winning goal. Defensively, Las Vegas are set up decently. They have 4v3 in the middle and 3v3 at the back, though Tucker Bone is in an advantageous position behind the left back. It's not great for Vegas, not horrible.
Except for that there's no goalkeeper in this frame.
If you've ever played youth soccer, you know how this happened. It's the old "push a defender into the goalkeeper so it looks like it's not a foul" trick, this time performed by Bone while the Lights keeper attempted to clear a ball outside of the box. It's also a trick that never works, especially at the professional level where the referees are actually good and aware of the laws of the game.
"I'll be completely honest....about 5-10 minutes earlier...I was on the sideline chasing the ball down and that same centerback had come over and almost threw me over the railing," Bone said. "So a little bit of payback on that through ball, I was just trying to get some pressure on him and create something. I was able to put a little bit of body on him and he kind of fell into the keeper, and they were trying to get a foul call and nothing came to it."
The ball came back to captain Pete Pennanen, whose shot was cleared, but the ball fell to Bone and the local bagged his second game-winning goal in as many games. Ninety-five percent of the time this doesn't work. Last night it did.
The sideline referee who the Lights players tried to get a call on the second goal from was Seth Martin, the man pictured here kneeling before the game during the national anthem. We've seen players, coaches, and fans kneel during soccer games in Sacramento, but as far as I can tell, this is the first time a referee has done it.
- Republic all-time leading goalscorer Cameron Iwasa missed the game but also wasn't on the injury report. I don't have that much information, but I'm told that if this was a playoff game, he would have played.
- This is the first time the Republic have won a home opener since 2018, which was also the last time Sacramento began their season with two straight wins. The only time the Republic won their first three games was in 2017. They went winless and goaless in their next six that year.
- Dariusz Formella is now tied with Vilyan Bijev for 6th all-time in Sacramento league goals with 11. The tallies from Justin Braun (12), Thomas Enevoldsen (13), Thomas Stewart (15), and Rodrigo Lopez (21) are all within reach this year. No one is catching Iwasa (49), though.
- It took me nine minutes to drive from Heart Health home. I know this because I attended the press conference while in bed.
- And lastly, no one wants this, right?