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.