“There’s A Lot of Bad Blood”, Sacramento Republic FC Prepare For Heated 2020 Playoffs Rematch with Phoenix Rising FC
It’s a date that the Sacramento Republic FC have had circled on their calendars since the 2021 schedule was released. Finally, an opportunity at revenge against Phoenix Rising FC, after controversially being knocked out of the 2020 USL playoffs in October.
The underdogs, in enemy territory, Sacramento did what no club had been able to do that season; hold Phoenix scoreless in 90 minutes. But, with playoff soccer comes extra time, and in the late minutes of the night, the Rising relied on a clever, but illegal, tactic to escape the Republic.
Slippery forward Solomon Asante literally punched a low cross past Sacramento keeper Rafael Diaz to win the match. It looked like a handball in real time to everyone but the officials, and slow-motion replay exposes the unquestionable offense. Even Asante, after the match, was caught smiling and making a punching motion on the sidelines, obviously pleased about getting away with the handball.
With the same frustrations despite a very different roster, the Republic will have their first chance to respond. But this time, it’s one their home pitch.
“Tomorrow it’s a little bit different,” said Republic head coach Mark Briggs after training on Friday, “There’s a little bit more tenacity, there’s a little bit more intensity, for a number of reasons. One, the history, with what happened in the past…”.
Briggs expects the home crowd to play a factor in the match, “I already know what (the atmosphere) will be like tomorrow. I don’t think I need to wind people up any more. People know what happened last year and people haven’t forgotten”.
There are many new faces on this Sacramento roster, including goalkeeper Tomas Gomez and defender Dan Casey, who despite not being a part of last year’s controversial playoff match, have embraced the rivalry as if they had been.
“There’s a lot of bad blood between the two teams after last year,” said Casey, “coming in as a new guy I’ve been told about it. I know exactly what a rivalry is. They’re the games that every player wants to play in, there’s a bit more on the line, everyone’s up for it and there’s a great atmosphere around the place. I’m looking forward to it”.
“I think definitely a lot of guys are going to be motivated to get back at them, and especially on our home turf, it’s our job to defend this and make it very very difficult to play against us. Make it almost impossible to get three points,” said Gomez.
With the history between the two clubs, and Sacramento’s aggressive philosophy, expect the match to be physical and entertaining. Briggs, who has demanded a stronger and more intimidating presence from his players this year, says playing rough is part of what’s needed to win.
“Everyone wants to play beautiful, pretty football. But if you don’t do the basics, you don’t fight, you don’t run, you don’t tackle, if you don’t show a desire to beat your individual opponent, everything else is a waste of time. That’s what I’m preaching to the players. If you have to kick someone, then you have to kick someone. Winning is what matters. You’ve got to do everything in your power to make sure you win.”
In addition to last season’s motivations, Sacramento has a chance to make up some ground against Phoenix, who is in first place in the USL Pacific Division, three points ahead of the Republic. Sacramento is coming off their first loss of the season last weekend, falling 1-0 to Orange County SC.
Kickoff for tomorrow’s rivalry match is scheduled for 7:30pm. Tickets to the match are still available, or you can watch the action on ESPN+, KQCA My58, or Estrella TV.