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Republic beat City Islanders to end dream inaugural year as champions, make MLS case

Photo by Randall Benton - Sacramento Bee


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — All Sacramento Republic FC had to do to cap off a dream start for the first-year franchise was win a championship.

In front of a rowdy sellout crowd Saturday, it hardly felt like any other outcome was possible, despite the Harrisburg City Islanders’ best efforts. Led by Rodrigo Lopez, the difference-maker who has been on fire all season, the Republic pushed out a win, 2-0, to become 2014 USL Pro champions in their inaugural season.

“I believed in this group and I think they believed in themselves,” said coach Preki. “For the first ten games of the season, we were still figuring it out, trying to get to know each other and figure out our weaknesses and strengths. But after that, I thought we were just pretty good. I would say damn good. Good with the ball and creating chances.”

In the 36th minute, with the Republic already looking a bit overdue for a goal, Lopez floated a lovely through ball to Octavio Guzman, running into the 18-yard box, who calmly chipped it past goalkeeper Nicholas Noble.

Antoine Hoppenot nearly equalized for the City Islanders in stoppage time but goalkeeper Jake Gleeson came off his line to make a huge, point-blank range save to preserve the lead. Less than a minute later, the Republic delivered the final blow to go up 2-0 as second-half substitute Thomas Stewart fired one from the outside edge of the 18-yard box on a tough angle past Noble.

The match was an uneven affair, with the scoreline not doing justice to the Republic’s dominance. The No. 2-seeded Republic were relentless, pummeling away at the defense of No. 8-seeded City Islanders, a franchise that has played in USL Pro since 2004.

The City Islanders committed numbers behind the ball to hunker down early, turning dangerous at times on the counter, but were out-possessed all night and out-shot, 6-to-21. The Republic had six shots on goal to the City Islanders’ three.

Though Gleeson, on loan from the Portland Timbers, saw far less action on his end, he made a couple key saves and had one of the shining performances for the Republic.

Lopez nearly gave the Republic the early lead in the 15th minute, finding Justin Braun with an opening inside the 18-yard box, but Braun’s shot bounced off the near post. Lopez, formerly a player for Chivas USA and the Timbers, was named match MVP.

“The first day of preseason, you could see the quality,” Lopez said after being asked when he knew the Republic had a chance at the league title. “It’s hard getting a group together so quick, but it was just a matter of time.”

For the Republic, the championship may have been a chance to showcase that they deserve to become Major League Soccer’s last expansion franchise under a current plan to stop at 24 teams. At one point during the awards ceremony, the 8,000-capacity stadium’s crowd chanted “MLS” in unison.

“This is the first step for us to send a message around the country that we’re ready for big time soccer,” Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson told reporters afterward.

The championship, like all their games at Bonney Field this season, was a sellout for the Republic. The club set a new USL Pro single-season attendance record in July, with five weeks left in the regular season, and finished the season with 158,107 total attendance.

The previous record-holder for the USL Pro single-season attendance record? Orlando City SC, a franchise that makes its entrance into MLS next year. The Republic are also the second USL Pro team to win a championship in its inaugural season. The first? Orlando City SC.

If the Republic saw Orlando City SC as having cleared a direct path to MLS, the Republic have certainly followed it. Sacramento has pushed hard for the attention of MLS executives, who made a site visit last week to a potential MLS stadium location near downtown, but the league has said there is no deadline to decide the fate of the 24th expansion slot.

“I’m extremely excited for the city of Sacramento because I believe the city of Sacramento has proven they deserve an MLS team,” Preki said of winning a title with a first-year franchise. “Look at the excitement, look at the support, look at the team we have on the field playing attractive football. It would be a shame if we don’t go to MLS very fast.”


  1. While Chivas re-branding to Sacramento makes some sense to help MLS clean up their mess, the Sacramento support this season far exceeded anyone’s expectations. There were $15 tickets going for over $220 on stub-hub for both the semi-final and championship games for the Republic FC. They built their current field as a temporary location, only having 8000 seats with the goal to always build an MLS style downtown stadium and will have to increase by 4000 seats for next season just to accommodate the season ticket holders and local demand.

    Sacramento also has full support of political and business leaders to get the stadium deal done, so that shouldn’t be a hurdle. I will be VERY surprised if Sacramento is not awarded the MLS expansion spot.

    I also like the thought of the Fresno team becoming a USL pro team as an affiliate for the Sacramento MLS team. Makes perfect sense.

  2. Local a Sacramento televised this game. Would be interesting to get the number of viewers.

    Personally I think MLS should push to 26. With more regional hubs. 13 in each division. Home and away. Then one against the other.

  3. MLS fans, we all need to open our eyes and see reality, and that is that MLS will reach 26 to 28 teams.
    If MLS is smart, they would bring in Los Angeles 2 and Miami together as teams 25 & 26, which would create global attention. By doing that, MLS opens 3 expansion spots besides Atlanta and those 3 expansion spots could be Sacramento, Minneapolis and Vegas but Vegas is getting no city council love.
    So, atlanta is #21, Sacramento #22, Minneapolis #23 and #24 could be Vegas or San Antonio and teams #25 & #26 Miami and LA2. That combination of expansion is prefect, given east and west a right amount and no unbalance schedule.
    And if MLS wants cosmos, then rebrand red bull to cosmos 🙂

    • Go home “NASL to El Paso”, you’re drunk. 🙂

      There is way too much risk going to LA again unless your owner is David Beckham. I don’t see MLS getting a stadium where they want one in Miami and I think that’s going to be a deal breaker. You bring in Beckham as an owner of a rival team in the town he played in, you have an instant rivalry and instant marketing. It’s a no-brainer. Trust me it’ll happen.

      Every sports league in the US is unbalanced. To try to avoid it will just create more problems than opportunities.

      #24 will NOT be Vegas.

      Atlanta, Minneapolis, San Antonio, Chivas->Sacramento, Miami->the OC.

      • 6 sentences = TL;DR

        Principal: Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
        Billy Madison: Okay, a simple “wrong” would’ve done just fine.


    • Seems to me that this could be the “Chivas solution”.

      MLS would still be keeping a team in the West in an obviously good soccer market. I get it that MLS wants and could easily have more teams in the LA area given its massive size and soccer’s popularity there – but there are apparently not a whole bunch of investors or slam dunks in the LA area to solve the problem. I think whatever ends up being the second LA team (and it will happen sooner or later), they need to chose a different location in LA than Galaxy and stand on their own two feet.

      The league is already talking about mothballing Chivas for a year or so right now. Sell Sacramento the carcass to get them into the league, disperse the Chivas players (there are a few that MLS teams would want) while Sacto builds its stadium and have them start in 2016 or 17 when they have that done. Sure, that is contingent on them actually getting a stadium deal done, but this is much easier than building a stadium in Miami or NYC.

      • Just the franchise as an admission ticket, they don’t have to take the players and would immediately rebrand and do whatever they wanted.

  4. With the support Sacramento Republic FC has showed (fans and financial) all season long and winning the championship, they have to be brought into MLS at some point. This is what we as MLS fans want, crazy support from the beginning.

    Viva Galaxy!

  5. If MLS announced sacramento tomorrow they’d get 15K season tix in one week.
    If there ever will be a city who generated their own momentum and luck for MLS it’s Sacramento.

    Sacramento is willing to anchor their huge downtown redevelopment project with a stadium and the city is in love with the opportunity/team. I hope MLS understands they could have another Portland there and doesn’t mess it up due to politics or a city with an NFL turf stadium.

    • As a Timbers fan, I agree that Sacramento seems to be following in the footsteps of the Portland, Vancouver, Montreal, Orlando mold who build successful teams / fan bases in lower divisions and made the MLS jump because they were easy transitions rather than big money investors approaching MLS saying they wanted a team). Congrats on that Sac.

      And congrats to our loanees – Gleeson, Fochive and Evans as well as former Timber RoRo (who I always liked when he was here back when we were USL and was sad that he just didn’t have the quality at the time we made our MLS jump) on their championship. I assume Evans and Fochive didn’t play (I can’t find an actual match report anywhere)? Fochive and Evans don’t look like they got a ton of playing time over the season (but hard to really tell from Sac’s website) … and wow, making me realize how many young guys on our roster that we loaned out to USL-Pro teams this season.

      • Evans came on for about a minute plus the 5 minutes of stoppage time. He played 11 games this season.

        Fochive played 12 games this season, but he was recalled by Portland in August.

  6. I got question for Californians, which city is the better soccer market.
    Los Angeles, San Jose, Sacramento or San Francisco.
    Oh and by the way, we need a damn MLS 2. MLS needs to create history and MLS 1 needs a right hand, besides uslpro which is MLS 3.

    • I don’t know what your babbling on about with this MLS2 nonsense. Clearly your latest obsession (I remember when it was MLS to El Paso which is obviously ridiculous given the size of that metropolitan area, but I digress…).

      Regarding your question, you forgot to list San Diego, which is also up there. But the clear winner by a mile is Los Angeles. Heck, the LA area produces like 10% of the talent on our national teams. Which is why Chivas needs to be rebranded, not just moved elsewhere. MLS needs multiple teams in LA, because there is a ridiculous amount of talent being developed there. And fans of non-Galaxy teams shouldn’t want them scooping it all up.

      • It’s absolutely essential that MLS rewards upstarts like Sacramento, but Bobb’s right, Los Angeles is still the big prize for MLS. I know that’s hard to believe given the implosion of Chivas, but here’s something to consider:

        The San Gabriel Valley (northeast LA), where I live, has 1.5 million residents….that’s three Sacramentos and it’s only one corner of LA. Which is why I seriously think MLS should think of LA in terms of subdivisions as opposed to, “how do we get people from Pasadena all the way to Carson?” And man, I love me some stubhub center, but it is the least sexy stadium location on earth and in the middle of nowhere…

        Would be great if one day LA had a handful of neighborhood-specific teams in the same way that London has north/south/east/west london teams. Don’t get me wrong…LA is no London…but it sort of is…

      • Chivas was conceptually a disaster from the start. This was a team marked as a Mexican B/C team playing in the US … not only that, Mexican expats who hate Chivas were not going to go jump on the bandwagon. Add to that, the Chivas organization was never serious about making the team competitive and just thought of it as a marketing tool extension for A team in Mexico. It was an interesting experiment, but one that would have been shocking to see success.

        That said, Galaxy is located in Carson (which was another dumb move by Chivas – trying to share a stadium). You could easily put another 3 teams in the greater LA area … one further south in Orange County / Irvine, one out east in Riverside area, one up north in Glendale or North Hollywood and still have enough soccer fans to go around … ignoring San Diego also which is separately one of the largest soccer markets in the US.

        Not that I am arguing that MLS should put 4 more teams (really 3 after Chivas does whatever it does) and Sac also, but we are talking about 20-30k stadiums here and the soccer market there could probably absorb that. What they can’t absorb is narrowly marketed dumb concepts like Chivas USA that has such a tiny potential fanbase and actively excludes so many.

    • I ive in the Bay Area and I am fan of the Earthquakes but very disappointed with their performance this year. They need to clean house, starting the coach and GMp,pus a whole slew of players. Sacramento appears to be the best right now. Preki is a very experienced
      soccer guy and proven leader.

      Joe Santos, sr

    • We don’t need an MLS 2 if we offer promotion to the team that wins the div below and relegation to the last team in MLS.

      It’ll also be the surest way of growing the sport. Owners-Founders will come out of the woodwork.

      • “Owners-Founders will come out of the woodwork.” The problem with pro/rel was never attracting new owners. We’ve seen how much interest potential owners have taken in pro soccer in the US over the past few years, and the vast majority of those new pro clubs have been in the lower divisions of USL Pro and NASL. Would those owners jump at a chance to be promoted to MLS? OF COURSE!

        The problem with pro/rel in MLS is that it reneges on the agreement between the league and CURRENT owners who’ve invested tens of millions of dollars to get into the “first division.” Imagine, after investing $100 million dollars in your team, you’re told your investment is no longer safe. There’d be lawsuits up the yin yang.

      • Teams get relegated all over the world every year and this doesn’t end their existence as entities. Lots of times (most of the time actually) they come back not longer after. It makes tons of sense to have pro/rel at some point in the future because there are potentially dozens of places that could support a pro soccer team and as the sport gets more and more popular, it will become increasingly untenable to force most markets to accept eternal minor league soccer with no chance of ever reaching the promised land.

      • It’s for all these reasons why the US Open could become the perfect compromise (at least for the near term). The Open lets the little fish (theoretically) get huge visibility and earn revenue that would otherwise be limited to their division matches. I realize that revenue isn’t there yet…What what if ESPN gave it World Cup level marketing/attention??? They could make it a must-watch thing, a la March Madness.

        Because if the Open is the most coveted tournament, then divisions don’t really even matter…

      • While true, relegated teams playing 2nd or 3rd division do not do as well financially even in countries with a long tradition of pro-rel. Do we really think if any current MLS team was relegated to second division besides maybe the cascadia teams they would pull in more than 10-15k fans a game? Heck, some teams can’t even get that in MLS consistently.

        The point remains that the economic structure of MLS would have to fundamentally change prior to moving toward pro-rel. In other words, all 19 (soon to be 21) current teams would demand to be bought out of the current entity to get their $100 million back (those that got in early would expect that with time their investment had grown to that value) and then the league would simply be run with some sort of yearly dues structure paid by the first division teams only. The league doesn’t have $100+ million to pay back every owner for their franchise purchase, so there is simply no way they are going to let other teams in without paying the entry fee.

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