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Republic FC’s Season Begins Tonight in Los Angeles

Photo via the Sacramento Republic FC

After far too long of an offseason, finally the Sacramento Republic FC are back!

Friday night, Sacramento will kick off the 2021 USL season against the LA Galaxy II, one of the seven other clubs in the Republic’s very difficult Pacific Division. With this season’s altered format, Sacramento will face each team in their division four times (two home and two away), and have an additional two non-division matchups. Therefore, avoiding a slow start, which can bury a team in the division standings early, is imperative.

Sacramento vs Everybody

From the opening of training camp just over a month ago, Republic FC head coach Mark Briggs has preached to the club a new mindset for this season; Sacramento vs Everybody. Simply put, Briggs knows that people doubt this team can win the Pacific Division, and the USL Cup. But the message goes deeper than just this season. People doubt the city of Sacramento, who recently lost their primary investor in their MLS expansion bid.

The Republic want to be a club for the city to rally behind, especially after the tough COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. The city’s resiliency & toughness is what the players want to embody on the pitch. Briggs and Republic FC President/General Manager Todd Dunivant were very specific on signing players whose personalities and playstyles matched those Sacramento traits.

“As professionals, there’s always expectations of you. You play for a city, you play for fans that are passionate about the sport just as much as you are. So I feel like we owe it to them, we owe it to the club and to the city to give 110% every time we step onto the pitch. So these expectations are things that we have to meet. It’s non-negotiable,” said defender Shannon Gomez.

This group is willing to do what needs to be done to win respect, in addition to another USL Cup. Becoming villains to the rest of the league, a team that others dread to play, who will be physical and ruthless within reason, is ideal to this group. And they welcome the target that it will put on their backs.

New Captains, Same Armband

The Republic announced on Thursday that midfielders Pete Pennanen and Fatai Alashe have been named Captain and Vice Captain of the club this season. Considered an honor for any player, it’s especially significant that the armband goes to two new members of the team. Pennanen bring years of experience, as both a winner and captain, from a successful professional career in Europe and Asia. Alashe, just last season, was a member of the MLS Champion Columbus Crew.

“Pete will be the captain for this group,” said Briggs, “I think he’s got a lot of experience, he’s played in top-level in Europe, he’s played in the top-level in Asia, and he’s won (at both levels). That’s extremely important. He’s got a lot of experience and he is an extension of me on the field. Somebody who I’ve got a lot of respect for and somebody I’ve put leadership on (and am) trusting to lead the group”.

“It’s a huge honor,” said Pennanen, “To be honest I didn’t think about it at all during the preseason because, like I said, I’m new here and it’s a lot of adaptation and stuff like that when you come to a new country, new league and face new (opponents). But I’ve been trying to be myself (since) day one. I already said it to (the) guys when they named me but it’s not about me, it’s not a one or two man show, it doesn’t mean that they can now step down and I have to carry the whole (responsibility). Everyone is still giving their voice. Everyone can be the captain”.

“Pete said it best when he spoke to the group when I announced him as captain; just because he wears the armband, there’s another 19 leaders on the roster. And we need every one of them. Everyone’s got a voice, everyone’s got an opinion, and it takes everyone to pull in one direction to win games. We’ve got a number of leaders but Pete’s the one that will wear the armband,” said Briggs.

Attack-First Playstyle

Having the desire to play physical, attacking soccer is only half the battle. A successful team also needs the right formation and tactics to truly implement their style of play. This preseason, Briggs and the club have made some noticeable changes.

Firstly, Sacramento has embraced a 5-3-2 formation, giving the club a lot of attacking options and a significant presence in the midfield. Arguably the two most important positions for the Republic to be successful are the wing-backs, whose responsibilities spread the length of the pitch. Defenders first, both provide needed speed and shape to the back line. But on the attack, each are just as crucial to scoring as the forwards.

In addition to the formation changes, Sacramento has looked to pressure the ball high up the field on defense, meaning forwards and midfielders are closing in on the ball and looking for takeaways in dangerous positions. This playstyle will lead to goal scoring opportunities, but requires a significant level of fitness from everyone on the roster. According to Briggs and the Republic training staff, the players are in the correct shape to play this aggressive.

“We’re excited, we’ve been working hard, trying to put the pieces together. I feel like we’ve definitely tuned in on things we needed to do and change as a team. The guys have been gelling well also. It’s a big weekend for us. We need three points off the bat and we’re going down there confident we’re going to get three points and come back,” said Gomez.

Briggs added, “We’re in a good spot. You’re never where you want to be, that’s just a given, but the boys have done well through preseason, they’ve put in the work, both physically and mentally – I think we’re in a good spot from a physical standpoint. We’re very fit. Or as fit as we could be at this stage. And we’re prepared for what we feel that Galaxy will throw at us”.

Kickoff for Friday’s season opener is scheduled for 7:30pm. The Republic’s official home opener will be against Las Vegas on Wednesday, May 12th.