Earthquakes Never Say Die

SAN JOSE - Matias Almeyda is back, and so are the members of a San Jose Earthquakes squad last seen showing signs of brilliance during the 2020 MLS is Back tournament, and then backing that up with a regular season remainder where they posted a less than brilliant 6-9-4 record. There were definite signs of improvement, and despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there was plenty to be optimistic about heading into 2021.

And so it happened, having last competed in a 3-3 tie that led to a shootout with Sporting KC that ended with Kansas City taking the points, the Earthquakes began 2021 with all the speed and strength fans witnessed the emergence of in 2020. First with a 6-1 thrashing of USL Championship side Sacramento Republic FC on April 2, Then a 3-2 defeat of neighboring Oakland Roots SC on April 9, they entered MLS play on the road.

The first match vs the Houston Dynamo on April 16 ended in a 2-1 loss that really could have swung the other way but for a few calls, a few no-calls, and an errant shot on goal. The Quakes wiped away the cobwebs and got serious. On April 24, the Quakes were fast, physical and dominant in a 3-1 victory over FC Dallas accompanied by a red card (89') for the great Chris Wondolowski. Taking one for the team, setting the tone for the season, Wondo's 'Never Say Die' style is not only a sight to behold, it's a mantra and an energy to be absorbed.

And absorbed it was. The Quakes hosted DC United on May 1 in what can only be characterized as the most electrifying punch-in-the-throat power flex ever to occur on the club's home pitch. PayPal Park, formerly Earthquakes Stadium, previously known as Avaya Stadium, is where home is, and last Saturday's sabre rattle started early.

La Chofis got things going with a quick strike in the first minute of play that sent everyone erupting in cheers. It was his first MLS goal. With limited fans on hand, both the Ultras and Faultline supporters groups forced echoes off the seatbacks that filled the air. Who is Chofis, you might ask. For those who don't know, he's #9, an outstanding attacking midfielder/winger from Torreon, Mexico. His full name is Javier Eduardo Lopez Ramirez. Statistics sheets will often cite E. Lopez. Make no mistake, he is every bit the nickname earned while at Chivas de Guadalajara, he is fantastic, and he is La Chofis.

With heads spinning at how quickly the Quakes got on the board, the team played an up tempo aggressive style with as much athleticism from a backline coming up as from a frontline dropping back. It was indeed all hands at all levels across the pitch, and the Earthquakes were in clear control. A rocket from 17 year old phenom Cade Cowell (26') burned a hole through the air and lit up the back of the net. He wasn't done there. Cowell played strong, fast and physical all night, and he didn't just stay forward. He ran the full pitch and played defense as well as any forward winger in the game. Cade's footsteps literally sent vibrations across the line and to the north end wall. He is 100% Earthquake, and he embodies the Never Say Die spirit.

Keeper JT Marcinkowski played brilliantly in goal managing 18 shots, 7 of which were on target. Add nearly a half dozen set plays off the corner alone, and DCU kept him busy. A lone goal by Costa Rican international defender Jose Vazquez (31') quickly reminded the Quakes that DC was not to be blown off, but that's where it ended. From there, it was all Quakes. Not only did they control the ball and wear down the clock, midfielder Jackson Yueill added two goals (43', 85') to seal the outcome.

Not to be forgotten, center back Florian Jungwirth. Playing from back to front, and sporting the longest hair on the pitch, Jungwirth displays a raw on-the-edge energy unparalleled in backline play. With every step, he reminds opponents that he will not be beaten. His goal line save in the second half kept the match at 3-1 and all but ensured the Quakes mantra, Never Say Die.

San Jose finished the night with a dominant 4-1 statement supported by the two stars on their kit: this club is for real, and these men want the cup. It's early, and a lot can happen, but even with Wondo out due to his red card the week before, every member of the club embraced and embodied equal energy and passion. The fight is real, and the San Jose Earthquakes will Never Say Die.

The Earthquakes compete on the road on Friday, May 7 at Real Salt Lake. That match kicks off at 6:30pm PST. The club returns home to PayPal Park on Wednesday, May 12 to host the Seattle Sounders. That kickoff is scheduled for 7:30pm PST.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, including professional soccer and the San Jose Earthquakes since 2014. All images taken by Ahsan Awan for American Presswire and ©2021 American Presswire. He can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi.

Boys in red return to the pitch

SACRAMENTO - Professional soccer is back in the capital city. After a pair of preseason matches versus MLS side Real Salt Lake and San Jose, the boys in Old Glory Red returned home to Papa Murphy's Park on April 24 to host Real Monarchs in front of a modest 2000 fans. This marked the first time fans were allowed back into the venue for a match since March 7, 2020. It was shortly thereafter that everything shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After 18 fan-free matches, save for a few friends and family toward the end of last season, some of the supporters were back. The Tower Bridge Battalion did not disappoint, and for the first time in over a year, things felt a real step closer to normal. Masks remain required, of course. With white balls of cottonwood blowing through the air like some sort of surreal spring snowfall, it was surely for the best.

The pandemic remains an issue, so everyone in attendance must remain mindful both of those on the pitch and those in the stands.  Republic FC was certainly mindful of the fans in attendance, and they showed it. Early aggressive play led to an impressive in-your-face goal by Cameron Iwasa off a precision assist by Duke Lacroix (16'), and that set the tone.

Republic FC goal keeper Rafael Diaz was solid in the net until subbed (62') shortly into the second half. His replacement, Jesus Sanchez, played brilliantly and maintained the shutout. After coming on late, Sacramento's leading goal scorer last season, Dariusz Formella, made an aggressive charge with the back of the net clearly on his mind. At the last minute, he saw Iwasa to his left and demonstrated the kind of unselfish leadership the club truly needs to be successful. A quick pass to Iwasa led to another goal (89'); count it, an assist for Formella and a brace for Iwasa.

Say what you will about the match being a preseason friendly, no one plays to lose, especially not when the opponent is a regular season foe. The clubs will meet again June 9, and that score will count. Let there be no doubt, Real Monarchs will look to avenge the preseason loss. However, Sacramento's vastly improved backline and midfield anchored by one-time MLS side San Jose Earthquakes midfielder, and 2020 Columbus Crew MLS Cup champion, Fatai Alashe, were nearly impenetrable.

After the match, Head Coach Mark Briggs repeatedly said there's a lot of work to be done and a lot that needs to be improved; however, he was clear about the positives and was delighted with the outcome. "It's been a good preseason," he said, but he was quick to move on and shift the focus to the April 30 regular season opener on the road versus LA Galaxy II. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30pm PST.

Sacramento Republic FC returns to Papa Murphy's Park on Wednesday, May 12 to host Las Vegas Lights FC. Kickoff for that match is also scheduled for 7:30pm PST.

Ahsan Awan has been covering sports for over a decade, including professional soccer and Sacramento Republic FC since their debut in 2014. All images taken by Ahsan Awan for American Presswire and ©2021 American Presswire. He can be found on Twitter as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi.

The Power and Paradox of Two

SACRAMENTO – Two weeks, two matches, two ties; two points up, yet two wins back. The next two matches are on the road. The power and paradox of two is profound. Sacramento Republic FC has a record of 7-1-5. Their 26 points rank second in USL Championship Group A. Reno 1868, with a record of 10-2-1, sits in first place with 31 points. With only three matches to go, Sacramento not only needs two wins to climb into first place, they need Reno to lose. Furthermore, in the third of the matches remaining, Sacramento would either need a win over Portland, or ties by both them and Reno, to finish the season in first place. The task ahead is not only complex, but also complicated. It is not enough that Sacramento wins, Reno must lose – twice!

Two weeks ago, it was Sam Werner (5’), Dariusz Formella (32’), and Jaime Villareal (74’) finding the back of the net for the boys in red. Unfortunately, a walk-off equalizer (90’) by Reno’s Aidan Apodaco spoiled Sacramento’s chance at a crucial win at a time when they were tied with Reno in Group A.

Coming off that exciting match, Sacramento’s Kharlton Belmar was selected as a striker for USL’s Team of the Week. The honor was his ninth selection honor. In addition, winger Villyan Bijev and keeper Rafael Diaz ere both nominated for Fans Choice Awards, Bijev for Goal of the Week and Diaz for Save of the Week. Both nominations stemmed from the previous week’s performance versus Orange County SC.

Indeed, this one-loss Republic FC squad is among the best in the league and ranks second all-time behind only Sacramento’s 2014 championship squad. If this squad can bring home the trophy and add a second star to the kit, perhaps a healthy debate will begin.

Sunday night, however, it was back to business at Papa Murphy’s Park. Sacramento faced a Tacoma squad they defeated previously 3-1 at home on August 15. This time was different though. Sacramento was on it is third keeper after losing Adam Grinwis earlier in the season, and then apparently sitting Diaz for undisclosed reasons. That led to MLS side Nashville SC reserve keeper (on loan) Brady Scott’s debut in the Starting XI.

At face value, Sacramento’s starting lineup last night did not make sense. Given the stakes, sticking with what worked previously would likely been advised. A new body in goal, Formella playing in a perhaps personally favored but visibly less-effective position on the left side when he is clearly stronger on the right, Rodrigo Lopez on the bench, what was the plan?

Sacramento has tremendous bench depth though, and the boys in red proved that. Tacoma scored first (3’), but Sacramento quickly regained composure and battled for possession around midfield for the remainder of the first half. The frontline was ineffective, but the backline did not yield. In fact, Republic would equalize just three minutes into the second half (48’) on a brilliant strike by Bijev courtesy of an assist from Werner.

A short time later, Belmar would put Sacramento ahead 2-1 on a penalty kick (60’). Unfortunately, Tacoma would answer and restore the tie (66’). With subs coming on, Republic neither strengthened the backline defensively, nor added striking power to the frontline offensively. Instead, substitutions focused on midfielders.

With time winding down, Republic’s backline would break again, giving up a goal (86’) to break the tie and put Tacoma up 3-2. However, just as all hope seemed lost, Sacramento’s most valuable veteran, Rodrigo Lopez found the back of the net (90’) equalizing the match once more.

Neither club made much of the four minutes of stoppage time and the match ended in a 3-3 tie. While it is always great not to lose, and getting one point is better than nothing, Reno’s 5-2 win over Portland meant they went from 28 up to 31 points in Group A, while Republic went from 25 to 26. That means Sacramento is now 5 points behind Reno. The club needs two wins to get out in front, and probably needs to win out. Meanwhile, they need Reno to lose two. That may seem like wishful thinking, but their final stretch begins with Sacramento, then they host Las Vegas, before finishing on the road in Tacoma. Anything is possible.

Sacramento competes in Reno vs the 1868 on Saturday, September 26 at 6:30pm Pacific and in Tacoma versus the Defiance on Wednesday, September 30 at 7pm Pacific. Both matches will be broadcast live on KQCA My58, Estrella TV, and through ESPN+. Republic FC wraps up the modified 2020 regular season on Saturday, October 3, when Portland Timbers 2 returns to Papa Murphy’s Park for a scheduled 7:30pm kickoff.

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. Images taken by Ahsan Awan and David Barpal for American Presswire and ©2020 American Presswire unless otherwise marked. Ahsan Awan can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @quackarazzi.

Roro Sees Red; SRFC puts OC to Bed

SACRAMENTO – Under apocalyptic skies with ash raining down like snowflakes, Republic FC welcomed the return of Orange County SC to Papa Murphy’s Park. Their originally scheduled match was delayed due to a safety protocol formality based on a positive COVID-19 test registered by a member of another club. There would be no such issue this time.

Entering the match with 21 points, tied for the lead but one spot behind rival Reno 1868 FC (21), who was scheduled to compete at PMP just three days later, Sacramento needed a win to stay in the hunt for the USL Group A lead. Momentum was surely on their side statistically, especially given the string of victories in recent weeks. The addition of Cuban forward Frank Lopez to the roster surely fueled excitement.

Orange County, for their part, came in with 18 points in USL Group B. Sitting behind Phoenix Rising (23) and LA Galaxy II (18), OCSC boasts a notable roster including Sean “Ugo” Okoli, Darwin Jones, and former SRFC forward Thomas Enevoldsen. They also have several talented players from the Scottish Premier League’s Rangers FC. On paper, at least, they tend to appear the favorite in most contests.

Indeed, OCSC began the match aggressively with Okoli scoring very early (5’) to set the tone. In fact, the first half saw Sacramento struggle to get by the OCSC backline despite leading duels won, passes, passing accuracy and possession. The boys in red even had more total shots, but never found the back of the net and looked rather uninspired.

Cameron Iwasa looked tired, and Rodrigo Lopez appeared at times out-muscled. It really did not look like Sacramento’s night. At halftime, however, Kharlton Belmar was substituted in for Iwasa, and the energy was about to shift.

A red card on Rodrigo Lopez (58’) seemed like the end. Playing a man down is never good, but against a squad that has a one goal lead midway through the second half; well, that would really take something. SRFC would fight on for some time without equalizing. Indeed, things did not look good.

Perseverance paid off late, however, as Belmar proved why you never give up. Weaving in and out fiercely and streaking up the middle, Belmar appeared to score the equalizer. At last, the bear had awoken. Due to a post-strike redirect, the goal was later credited to Dariusz Formella (80’) whose energy, despite playing with a yellow card earned early in the second half (48’), along with Belmar’s, completely changed the match.

With all things equal on the pitch, and the momentum shifted in the home team’s favor, SRFC saw their chance. Just a few minutes later, Villyan Bijev worked his magic and found the net (87’). Republic had finally taken the lead.

For the remaining 3 minutes, as well as an additional 5 minutes of stoppage time, the boys in red never stopped fighting. They stuck with the aggressive style they had adjusted to and kept working to score rather than fall back into a defensive posture. That strategy proved correct, and Sacramento won the match 2-1. They earned 3 points that kept them tied with Reno (24 points), but still one place back in the group standings.

With six straight wins, tying a club record set during the inaugural 2014 season when they won the league championship, Sacramento (7-1-3; 24 pts) will have its chance to claim the lead in USL Group A when the club hosts Reno 1868 FC on Saturday, September 12 at Papa Murphy’s Park. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30pm Pacific. It will be broadcast live on KQCA My58, Estrella TV, and through ESPN+.

Note: due to the red card, Rodrigo Lopez will not be available to compete on Saturday.

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.

Boys in Red Win Again

SACRAMENTO – Last week it was extreme heat. This time it was extreme smoke. The character-building exercise in the capital city continues as Republic FC once again faced a uniquely challenging circumstance that had the potential to affect the quality of performance and the outcome on the pitch. This time, however, it was not an exercise of perseverance in high temperature, but rather one of fierce competitors blazing trails through smoke on a mission to win.

Sacramento took to the pitch on the 3-match win streak. Portland, on the other hand, entered on a 6-match losing streak. Once the typical back and forth was done, both clubs stepped up the aggressiveness of play, but it was Portland that landed on the scoreboard first. Jorge Gonzalez found the back of net (23’) and celebrated with a run, roar and slide worthy of full house witness.

From there on, the boys in red struggled to generate opportunities in the box. Portland’s amazing center back, Mamadou Danso, absolutely dominated the area in front of the goal. Getting beyond him was difficult. His imposing size and athleticism could only be beaten with speed and precision. Throughout the remainder of the first half, Sacramento could not come up with an answer.

It was not until the 60th minute that the boys in red equalized on a goal by Drew Skundrich off an assist by Ashkanov Apollon. Continuing the trend of unselfish play and excellent communication, the pair worked together to find the back of the net. The moment served as a wakeup call for a squad that some think could make a decent playoff run.

That spark quickly led to another Republic goal, this time by Cameron Iwasa (69’). This was Iwasa’s 51st USL goal, continuing where he left off the previous week, and giving Sacramento the lead.

Minutes later, Sacramento substituted Sam Werner for Villyan Bijev, and the remainder of the match brimmed with hope that Werner would fulfill on his high energy quest for the net that was so powerfully apparent just one week ago. Unfortunately, despite four minutes of stoppage time, the quest would extend into the future.

Republic finished the match victorious, 2-1 over Portland Timbers 2, notching their fourth win of the season (5-1-3) to remain tied with Reno at 18 points, though second in the Group A standings. The club travels to Portland to play Timbers 2 again on Saturday, September 2 at Providence Park. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30pm Pacific. 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.

Defying Adversity, Sacramento Wins

SACRAMENTO – Adversity appears in many forms. They say the perseverance through it builds character. For Republic FC, a mid-August rematch against a Tacoma Defiance club that stormed back to tie their last meeting at 3-3 on the 13th of July seemed like the perfect opportunity to rise to the occasion.

Recall, however, that we remain deep in the throes of an uncontrolled global pandemic. Coronavirus safety protocols remain in place. Dry conditions have caused a statewide drought to continue; still, the pitch is adequately watered. Unfortunately, The August 15th rematch between these clubs had an added adverse factor – extreme heat! Temperatures were as high as 110 F throughout the day, and only dropped to 104 F at kickoff. Sundown brought little relief. When the match ended, it was still 100 F!

Apart from the heat and the rematch drama, this match was special because it marked the 100th USL start for Republic FC’s Cameron Iwasa. He entered with 49 career goals and was looking for his 50th score. More on that later. Once play began, the boys in red wasted no time notching their first score. Dariusz Formella found the back of the net early in the 14th minute. He went on to notch another goal in the 41st minute, securing his second brace of the season, both against Tacoma.

Shortly before Formella’s second goal, however, Cameron Iwasa got his 50th career goal (33’) thanks to a brilliantly unselfish pass from Villyan Bijev who got a much-deserved assist for his effort.

Heading into halftime up 3-0, Republic FC appeared unfazed by the unfortunate loss of keeper Adam Grinwis to a season-ending ACL tear. Whether Sacramento will add another keeper to the roster remains unknown, but backup keeper Rafael Diaz did an excellent job and is securely in the starting XI.

Early in the second half, Tacoma would finally make a mark on the scoreboard due to a goal by Sam Rogers (50’), but that’s all they could muster. Sacramento’s backline would hold strong for the rest of the match, securing 3 points for their effort and remaining atop the group standings.

It must also be noted that Rodrigo Lopez had another all-star-worthy performance, and Sam Werner made several strong advances toward the goal. He did not score, but he very well may have given even one more chance before the final whistle. FT Sacramento Republic FC 3 – 1 Tacoma Defiance.

Sacramento hosts Portland Timbers 2 on Saturday, August 22 at Papa Murphy’s Park. Kickoff is scheduled for 8pm Pacific. It will be broadcast live on KQCA My58, Estrella TV, and through ESPN+. Adding to the adversity this week will be significant smoke pollution from the deadly fires burning throughout the region.

Given all the adversity facing the community and the region, it is fair to say Republic FC has incredible depth of character. In fact, Rodrigo Lopez has come forward to offer his assistance to people in need. This remarkable showing of generosity underscores what fans have come to know and expect from this club. They truly are Sacramento proud, and they truly are an indomitable force for good.

One final note: American Presswire is no stranger to adversity during this time. We are deeply saddened to report the tragic loss of brilliant photographer Jerry Imboden. Jerry covered the San Joe Earthquakes, Stanford University football, and NCAA Pacific-12 Conference post-season bowl games. Jerry will be missed, and we salute his many lifetime accomplishments behind the lens and in all areas of life.

Additionally, photographer Tom Corno, who covers the Seattle Sounders, was in a serious accident and is recovering at home, and photographer Jamie Castaneda (MLS and Australian A-League) was also in a serious accident and remains hospitalized. We wish them both speedy recoveries.

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.

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 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.