3 Matches in 10 Days - Republic FC Returns to the Pitch Tonight

SACRAMENTO – Three matches in ten days. There was an amazing victory over Reno 1868 on July 19. Republic FC secured a 1-0 victory on a near walk-off (90’) penalty kick taken by Cameron Iwasa. Of course, that was just one of three stories that night. The other two were the historic debut of 15-year-old homegrown Rafa Jauregui, and the lengthy amount of playing time for several key members of the starting XI. More on that later.

Fast forward six days. On July 25, Republic traveled to Los Angeles to face LA Galaxy II. On that night, the result was the opposite. Sacramento fell 0-1 on a late (72’) goal by LA’s Augustine Williams. Republic FC simply could not equalize due to a seemingly impenetrable LA backline.

That brings us to today, July 29. Today is the third match in 10 days for Republic FC. The opponent: undefeated Orange County SC, who happens to be coming off an exciting 1-0 (20’) victory over Phoenix Rising FC thanks to OCSC forward Sean “Ugo” Okoli.

Sacramento and Orange County both enter today’s match with 5 points in the USL standings. Their season records may not appear very different. Sacramento’s record is 1-1-2, and Orange County’s record is 1-0-2. However, Sacramento sits atop USL Championship Group A, a competitive group comprised of Reno 1868, Seattle Sounders II and the Portland Timbers II.

In contrast, Orange County sits in fourth place in USL Championship Group B. That group is led by San Diego Loyal with 10 points, LA Galaxy II with 9 points, and Phoenix Rising with 7 points. The only team below then is Las Vegas. Perhaps Group B is more competitive – they certainly have one more club – but the difference in total points suggests the club may be vulnerable. Despite the presence of Okoli, a fast, powerful and dangerous forward talent, the club recently made history by loaning perhaps their best emerging player, 18-year-old midfielder Bryang Kayo, to VfL Wolfsburg of Germany’s Bundesliga.

Make no mistake, Orange County is no pushover. The club formed a strategic partnership with Rangers FC of the Scottish Premier League. Daniel Finlayson, Matthew Shiels, and Cammy Palmer came across from the UK as part of the deal. They’re young, but the club has senior leadership from players like Denmark’s Thomas Enevoldsen who played in Sacramento last year, Darwin Jones who spent a number of years with the Seattle Sounders organization, Kevin Coleman who spent time with SpVgg Bayreuth of Germany’s Bundesliga, and Diego Lopez who spent time with the Atlanta United organization. All four present difficulties for Sacramento. Add Ugo, and that makes five. The rest of the roster is short of neither talent nor pedigree, so expect a fair challenge for sure.

Republic is no slouch when it comes to talent though. Rodrigo Lopez has returned to Sacramento after spending time in Mexico’s Liga MX, Dariusz Formella spent the past seven years in Poland’s first division and received USL honors after his strong performance in Sacramento’s 3-3 draw versus the Tacoma Defiance just two weeks ago. Everyone knows Villyan Bijev who has long history in Europe and came from the Liverpool FC organization. The rest of the roster bios are noteworthy, and there is no doubt Sacramento can compete.

However, it is worth mentioning once again that this is the third match in 10 days. Circling back to one of the leading stories over the past 10 days, there may be some valid concern regarding fatigue. Head Coach Mark Briggs must rely on the depth of talent more for rest and recovery to be effective. It is always a challenge when there is not much time between matches, and the global coronavirus pandemic certainly has not helped matters. USL Championship is fiercely competitive, and clubs that normally rely heavily on their starting XI are certainly challenged by the risk of cycling lesser experienced players into starting roles when there is so much parity within and across divisions and groups. Nevertheless, it is likely not wise to seek 70 or more minutes from the first team starting XI every few days.

Expect a crowd on the levee once again, perhaps growing in size as more supporters rally to provide 12th man support even from a distance. Every bit of rally energy helps when you are on near-tournament play schedules. A win is essential for both clubs tonight. Sacramento needs three points to remain atop Group A. Orange County needs 3 points to return to relevant striking distance near the top of Group B. Kickoff is scheduled for 8pm Pacific at Papa Murphy’s Park. It will be broadcast live on KQCA My58, Estrella TV, and through ESPN+.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, and has been covering professional soccer, and Sacramento Republic FC, since their debut in 2014. All images taken by Ahsan Awan for American Presswire and ©2020 American Presswire. He can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi.


Sac Is Back! Roro, SRFC Return

SACRAMENTO - Perfect warm weather and a classic cloud-free sky coupled with a light breeze and a colorful sunset; but for the coronavirus pandemic, it would have been beautiful rather than spooky. Professional sports returned to the Golden State on Monday night in an empty house. No fans were allowed into Papa Murphy's Park for Sacramento Republic FC's USL Championship 2020 season restart versus the Tacoma (WA) Defiance. A group of brave die-hard supporters dubbed the Levee Patrol set up camp from a distance on top of the levee wall and could be seen from the pitch. No matter how far away they were, their presence made a difference. The home team may not have won, but a courageous and aggressive 3-3 draw after being sidelined for four months is impressive.

The legendary Rodrigo Lopez returned to Sacramento's starting XI for the first time since 2015. He was joined by fellow midfielder Cameron Iwasa, a familiar face and veteran roster anchor. Unfortunately, Tacoma would find the back of the net first on a goal by Alec Diaz that came in the first minute off an assist by Danny Reynolds. Unfazed, Sacramento would equalize only seven minutes later thanks to a penalty kick taken by Dariusz Formella.

Sacramento would go on to take the lead in the twenty-third minute on a brilliant goal by Tomas Hilliard-Arce made possible by an assist from none other than Rodrigo Lopez.  From there, they smelled blood. The club would extend their lead to 3-1 on a goal by Dariusz Formella that came off an assist by Jordan McCrary. Formella's goal was clean and strong as he rushed in almost completely unchallenged from the right side of the box striking a clean left footer that exploded off the inside edge of his boot with ferocious velocity.

The club was on fire, but unfortunately it was all downhill from there. Halftime wound come and go, and as frequently happens at the break, the wind left the sails. Tacoma would go on to score again and narrow the gap to a single goal. Sacramento would substitute Jaime Villareal for Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, and the always exciting Villyan Bijev came on for Lopez, both in the sixty-third minute. However, that did't turn things around. Sacramento brought in Kharlton Belmar for Iwasa just ten minutes later. The club also entered Dekel Keinan for McCrary and Sam Werner for Formella, thus opting for what appeared to be a more defensive posture perhaps to preserve a 3-2 victory.

Sadly, that was not to be. Tacoma equalized in the eighty-first minute as Ray Serrano brought the score to 3-3. The confluence of disbelief and altered chemistry left Sacramento in desperation from there on. Despite a valiant effort to regain the lead, the clock expired. One might wonder what might have been had the 12th man legion that is the Tower Bridge Battalion been in the house. A distant drum simply wasn't enough.

It's worth noting, however, that it wasn't disappointing from the edge. It was great to see the club return to action, and while it wasn't the result they wanted, a 3-3 tie tends to show that this group is hungry and aggressive. Hopefully the world works in ways that allow fans to witness the energy and excitement these men bring to the game. Sacramento Republic FC returns to the pitch Sunday, July 19 at 6 p.m. to host Reno 1868 FC. The match will be broadcast live on ESPN2.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, and has been covering professional soccer, and Sacramento Republic FC, since their debut in 2014. All images taken by Ahsan Awan for American Presswire and ©2020 American Presswire. He can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi.


Black and Blue and Powering Through

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Earthquakes are currently the hottest team in Major League Soccer. Head Coach Matias Almeyda may very well be the MLS coach of the year. If there’s an award for best GM, it must go to Quakes General Manager Jesse Firoranelli. His masterfully orchestrated turnaround isn’t even complete, yet the results are undeniable. He’s building a cup contender. On the pitch, Chris Wondolowski extends his league scoring record nearly every match and currently has 153 lifetime MLS goals. Vako is on fire, Eriksson is playing his best game. Former Liga MX and CONCACAF Champions League Chivas de Guadalajara star winger Carlos Fierro has joined the team. The Quakes have acquired Argentine Primera Division champion forward Andres Rios from Racing Club perhaps in anticipation of a playoff run. If that name sounds familiar, think River Plate and Wisla Krakow. Rios has played all over the world. Power rankings have the Quakes in second on MLSsoccer.com and third on ESPN. The team hasn’t lost at home since the month of March. Knock on wood!

And wait, playoffs? There’s a lot of soccer to be played. MLS has only just completed the All-Star break. However, the San Jose Earthquakes are pushing toward the top of the western division led by the only team ahead of them in the power rankings: LAFC, and only slightly edged out by the last team to have joined the western division, Minnesota United. There’s a fair gap between #1 and #2, and then there’s #3. In fact, the Quakes’ worst loss this season was at home to #1 LAFC. According to Quakes fans, that score should never be mentioned again. Have things changed enough to make things more competitive when the Quakes visit LAFC at Banc of California Stadium on August 21? That remains to be seen. However, the Quakes beat the LA Galaxy handily both up north and down south, and the Galaxy crushed LAFC recently. That may suggest the Quakes have a chance, especially with the recent roster additions. Will that be enough to claim first place in the division? Probably not. LAFC currently enjoys a comfortable lead. However, the Quakes are currently tied with #2 Minnesota, and the #4 Seattle Sounders.

Having won four straight and being unbeaten at home over the past ten matches, San Jose has momentum on their side. Two weeks ago, after beating the Colorado Rapids at Avaya Stadium, Matias Almeyda said, “we were able to take the advantage through combinations and control;” but, “we need to keep improving.” There’s no question his system is working, and the players are responding well. The team continues to improve every week, thus confirming Almeyda’s belief that they can be even better. The players believe it too. Quakes defender Tommy Thompson said, “It's been amazing to be a part of this and I think we're just getting started.” Quakes midfielder Shea Salinas echoed similar sentiments. He said, “Our staff seemed to always know that we were going to turn this around. It just took us to start believing it.” Confidence is priceless.

The newest member of the Earthquakes, forward Andres Rios, also knows Matias Almeyda and his system. Rios said, “Matias likes for his players to pressure, to play and not let their guard down, and that's important for the team that is approaching the final stretch of the season where those qualities mark the difference.” The key to the Earthquakes’ continued success is a perfect blend of confidence and focus. From the office to the locker room, there’s no question everyone in the organization is committed to doing everything it takes to succeed.

The Earthquakes tied the Columbus Crew on Saturday, August 3 at Avaya Stadium. Despite Magnus Eriksson’s penalty pick score to go up 1-0 before the half, the Crew’s Gyasi Zardes equalized during the second half and neither team scored again. The draw represented a valuable learning lesson for the Quakes. “We know we have to keep going on this path,” said Almeyda. He knows there’s more work to be done, and so do the players. While it’s always great to win, and to earn three points, especially at home, the Quakes were aggressive. They never let up. They never lost focus. “Things don’t always go your way,” said Quakes defender Tommy Thompson. All there is to do is move on to the next match, and by all accounts the Quakes were fired up and ready to get back on the pitch mere minutes after the end of the match.

The Earthquakes now begin a 3-match road trip. They face the Colorado on the road on Saturday, August 10 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado. The match will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Bay Area, KNBR 1050 and KZSF 1370. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Pacific time.

The Earthquakes continue their 11-day road series by challenging Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, August 17, and LAFC on Wednesday, August 21. The club returns home to face the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, August 24 at Avaya Stadium. The match will be broadcast live on NBC Sports California, KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Pacific time. Fans interested in tickets can find them through the Earthquakes website.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, and has been covering professional soccer, and the San Jose Earthquakes, since 2014. All images taken by Ahsan Awan for American Presswire and ©2019 American Presswire. He can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi.


Wondolowski Records Record Haul

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Just three weeks ago, the San Jose Earthquakes inched above the red line into seventh place in Major League Soccer’s western division with a 1-0 victory over the league’s newest member, FC Cincinnati. Forward Danny Hoesen was the starter, and forward Chris Wondolowski, one of the greatest players in MLS history, appeared relegated to clean up duty late in multiple matches.

Wondo Watch, as it was popularly called, had been going on since late in the 2018 season. Wondolowski was just one goal away from tying Landon Donovan’s MLS record of 145 goals in league play. Wondo was two away from owning the record outright. Neither achievement was realized in 2018, and with limited minutes late in nearly every match in 2019, those goals appeared even more difficult to achieve.

Despite Wondo’s limited late presence on the pitch, the Quakes had been playing well, and were now back above the line. It seemed as though new Head Coach Matias Almeyda’s strategy was working well. Then came last week’s road match versus the New England Revolution. The Quakes not only lost the match, they appeared flat from start to finish. With other clubs capturing critical points, San Jose fell back below the line once again. They returned home to regroup, refocus, and prepare for their next opponent, the Chicago Fire.

Last Saturday’s match was serious. The Earthquakes needed a win to remain closely in contention to move back above the red line. In the days before the match, most people assumed the strategy would remain the same: Chris Wondolowski would enter late, if at all, and spend the final minutes working hard to get an opportunity to find the back of the net.

The strategy changed. Danny Hoesen suffered an apparent injury in training one day before the match. It wasn’t clear whether he’d be able to compete. By match time, Wondo got the call and was back in the starting lineup. What happened next was incredible. It went well beyond the story anyone would have planned to tell. It was one for the ages. It was the glorious achievement of history with a command and dominance that only the greatest of all time could be capable of.

Chicago entered the match having won three straight supported by a stingy defense that did not give up a goal. San Jose, on the other hand, was coming off a road loss. However, they had won three straight at home scoring an impressive eight goals, while giving up only one.

Fans were excited to see Wondo on the pitch. As the match got underway, it was clear both clubs were choosing to open aggressively. Just 21 minutes into the match, everything changed. Hope turned to joy, prayers became reality, and history was being written.

Chris Wondolowski scored his first goal just 21 minutes into the match off a brilliant pass from teammate Shea Salinas. Wondo tied Landon Donovan’s record (145 MLS goals in league play). The crowd went wild. Only 27 minutes later, at the 48’ mark, he did it again. This time, Wondo maintained focus in the face of Fire keeper David Ousted, who dropped the ball, and followed through with a tap-in finish that gave him the record outright. The crowd went wild. No one expected it, not even Wondo himself. The first half ended. Everyone, including Chris Wondolowski, simultaneously celebrated and breathed a sigh of relief. It was done. The record was broken. Wondo had a brace.

Enter the second half. Minutes went by, Wondo remained in, and it was clear Chicago wasn’t giving up. Wondo fought on, and in the 74th minute, he scored again. Move the record. Note the hat trick. It came off an assist from teammate Cristian Espinoza. Just two minutes later, however, at the 76’ mark, Wondo scored again, this time off an assist from teammate Jackson Yueill. Move the record again. Note the official designation. For a moment, no one seemed to know what to call it. Hat +1? Double brace? No, it’s called a haul! Wondo got a haul!

To be clear, number 145 was fantastic. Number 146 was unbelievable. Number 147 was amazing bordering insane. Number 148 was, well, mind-blowing. It literally defied comprehension. There’s no question now, Chris Wondolowski is the greatest of all time. The team logged 21 shots, 7 of those were on target, and 4 resulted in goals courtesy of one man: future MLS Hall of Famer Chris Wondolowski.

What makes Wondo worthy of the Hall of Fame? Besides his current total of 148 goals in MLS league play, he has 41 game-winning goals. He’s currently tied with Landon Donovan in that regard. While he has tallied both braces and hat tricks in the past, this was his first recorded haul.

He’s the only player to score ten or more goals in what is now nine consecutive seasons (2010-2018), and he’s now only six goals away from making that ten plus in ten straight. No other MLS player has ever scored ten or more goals in a season more than five seasons in a row. Wondo has also scored 144 of his 148 goals with San Jose. That’s the most by any player with a single club. Remember, he’s not done yet.

Wondo also holds the record for MLS road goals at 67; and as previously mentioned, he’s tied with Landon Donovan with 41 game winning goals. No fewer than 14 of his game winning goals have been in 1-0 victories, that too being an MLS record. He’s also the only player in MLS history to score against two dozen different teams. No one in MLS history has scored against more keepers during his career, Wondo has scored against 59 of them to date.

There’s one more thing that makes one hall-worthy: humility. Asked about how the record-setting goal happened, Chris Wondolowski humbly said, "I'm just having fun right now." Fun indeed.

When asked how the moment felt, he said, "it was pretty special." Yes, yes it was.

Ever the professional, discussing his activation in the starting lineup, Wondo said, "I'm always ready, always ready to go. I know my role. I know my job." For the record, no one ran harder after the matches that preceded the one versus Chicago. That’s why he’s always ready. He’s always prepared.

Earthquakes Head Coach Matias Almeyda echoes that sentiment. About Wondo, he said, "he's a great professional and a great team member."

Wondo’s teammates agree. Shea Salinas said, "He's an incredible person, an incredible teammate, and an incredible goal-scorer."

It’s also worth noting that Chris Wondolowski scored his first MLS goal against the Chicago Fire in 2006. By capturing the record against them, things have indeed come full circle. He’s been named MLS Player of the Week for Week 12, but he’s surely hall-bound in the future.

The Earthquakes face Toronto FC on Sunday, May 26 at BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The match will be broadcast live on NBC Sports California, KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Pacific time. The team does not return to Avaya Stadium until Saturday, June 8, to play FC Dallas. Kickoff is currently scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Pacific time. Fans interested in tickets can find them through the Earthquakes website.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, and has been covering professional soccer, and the San Jose Earthquakes, since 2014. He can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi. All images taken by Irina Filenko for American Presswire and ©2019 American Presswire. She can be found on Twitter as @FilenkoIrene and on Instagram as @stillfragments.


Earthquakes find their stride

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The turnaround is underway. After a challenging start under a new coach that echoed much of last season's results, the Earthquakes have found their stride. The club is above the red line in seventh place in the Western Conference. They’re unbeaten in four consecutive matches and have won three straight at home. They have the longest unbeaten streak in the west, and they’re tied for second longest in the league. Earthquakes midfielder Jackson Yueill said, “The start of the season we had was a little rough. I think we were getting used to the system.”

The Earthquakes have certainly gotten used to the system. There’s a different energy during warm-ups, a swagger and confidence, all evidence of buy-in to Head Coach Matias Almeyda’s strategic plan. The team has developed a potent front that has outscored opponents 8-1 and tallied 11 goals since losing to LAFC. In stark contrast to that late March shutout in which LAFC put up 5 goals at Avaya Stadium, a suddenly stingy Earthquakes back line has not allowed a goal in two consecutive matches and is thus central to San Jose earning consecutive shutouts for the first time in two years.

The Earthquakes’ Saturday night performance versus FC Cincinnati was a clear demonstration of the grit and determination the club now possesses. The 1-0 FT shutout victory hardly tells the story. During the match, the team drew four yellow cards, two of which went against midfielder Cristian Espinoza and resulted in a red card ejection in only the 51st minute. The Earthquakes played the rest of the match with only 10 men. While defender Nick Lima scored the only goal early, in the 22nd minute, the team never stopped fighting and produced 11 shots on goal. Almeyda said it best, “The players are understanding how to identify with San Jose as a club. They are leaving their soul in every play."

Not to be forgotten is the Earthquakes performance in goal. Keeper Daniel Vega has been outstanding. His league-leading 39 saves have led to three shutouts, and his performance on Saturday did not disappoint. His acrobatic save late in the match denied FC Cincinnati midfielder, and former Earthquakes midfielder, Fatai Alashe from equalizing. That was clutch. Vega is an essential part of the team’s turnaround.

While the Earthquakes fan favorite and presumptive future hall of fame member Chris Wondolowski entered the match late and didn’t score a goal, he did set the stage for yet another remarkable achievement. His next appearance will be his 300th appearance with the team, something only four other men have ever accomplished in MLS. One match away from 300, one goal away from tying the MLS record, watching Wondo make history is both surreal and fantastic.

Unbeaten in five of their last six matches, the Earthquakes face the New England Revolution on Saturday, May 11 at Gillette Stadium. The match will be broadcast live on NBC Sports California, KNBR 1050 and 1370 KZSF. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Pacific time. The team returns to Avaya Stadium to play the Chicago Fire on Saturday, May 18, with kickoff currently scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Pacific time. Fans interested in tickets can find them through the Earthquakes website.

Ahsan Awan has been covering pro and college sports for over a decade, and has been covering professional soccer, including Major League Soccer, since 2014. He can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi, and on Instagram as @quackarazzi. All images taken by Ahsan Awan and ©2019 American Presswire (Twitter: @ampresswire).