Three men with Chivas USA connections won a championship in American soccer on Saturday.
First-year team Sacramento Republic FC won the 2014 USL PRO championship with a 2-0 win in the title game against the Harrisburg City Islanders on Republic's home field.
With former Chivas USA coach Preki at the helm, two former Goats players, midfielder Rodrigo Lopez and forward Justin Braun, started and played a key role in bringing the title to the debutants. Lopez assisted on the winning goal, scored by Octavio Guzman in the 36th minute, while Braun had a couple good chances on the night, including a shot off the post in the first half.
The championship is a significant accomplishment for the club, which has been aggressive in its ambition to jump to MLS at some point, and appears to be trying to follow the 2013 USL PRO title winners and team that finished ahead of Sacramento in the regular season standings, Orlando City SC. Of course, the Florida club has succeeded in its desire to jump to the first division, and the attendance figures, highest in USL PRO, in addition to the on-field success, means the NorCal city may be on course to make a strong case, despite how unlikely it looked a year ago.
And it must be said the title represents personal redemption for the trio. Preki hadn't coached since being fired by Toronto FC at the end of the 2010 season, and while it's unclear if he wanted a break, he did have some success with Chivas USA, guiding them to the playoffs 2007-09. That means he was the last coach to take CUSA to the postseason — and there have been five managers since his departure.
For Braun, he's not only found a home, it seems on Preki's team once again after bouncing around several MLS teams, but it's the first title of his professional career. As a player who was once called into a U.S. Men's National Team training camp, his inability to really grow in MLS must have been tough to swallow. But serving as captain of the team and winning a trophy has to make the decision to join the team worthwhile.
And for Lopez, the journey has arguably been even rockier, but his ascent with Sacramento has been greater. Part of Chivas during the club's first three seasons, he was waived after 2007 and bounced around for awhile, getting another chance in MLS with the Portland Timbers in 2011 before being set loose again. Somewhat remarkably, Lopez was one of the only players invited to CUSA's preseason camp as a trialist in 2013 who was not ultimately offered a contract.
But after moving to Sacramento from the LA Blues this season, Lopez was a finalist for USL PRO MVP and was named to the USL PRO All-League First Team for the season. And he's still just 26.
Preki also won the 2014 USL PRO Coach of the Year award in the end-of-season honors.
Congratulations to Preki, Braun and Lopez. It is a considerable accomplishment, and it's nice to see some former Goats lift silverware.
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