Local USL side Orange County Blues FC take to the road for the first time this season for a game Friday evening, and it's against defending USL champion Sacramento Republic FC. Both teams are in good form at the moment, and it should be a very good early-season test for the Blues.
In order to get a sense of what's going on in our state capital, I spoke with Joshua Beeman, who covers Sac Republic for Reckless Challenge and hosts a podcast, Beeman's Republic, devoted to the team. Thanks very much to Joshua for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks Beeman's Republic:
1. It's season two for Sacramento Republic, but their first season went about as well as can be expected, with huge crowds and a league championship. So how's it been so far this season? Have they picked up where they left off? Has there been any kind of hangover from the highs of 2014?
Other than some early hiccups caused mostly by the team missing some key players, including 2014 USL Defender of the Year Nemanja Vukovic, Sacramento have looked the part of the defending champions this year. They are sitting on the top of the USL Western Conference with 12 points from 6 games and are in great form, with a 3-game win streak going into this Friday's match.
They have had a bit of difficulty in their road matches, with only a late Rodrigo Lopez winner against Los Dos to thank for having three points through their first three games. At home it is a completely different story though. The Republic are still absolutely dominant at Bonney field, their newly expanded home on the grounds of Cal Expo. They outscored their opponents 8-1 through the first three home games of the year, continuing a trend that brings their overall home goal differential to an astonishing +28 over 16 competitive matches.
Things have gone well for the Republic off the field as well and there has certainly been no championship hangover in that department. The club has over 9,000 season ticket holders, more than the 8,000 seat capacity of Bonney Field in 2014. With the expansion, Bonney Field now has a capacity of just over 11,000.
2. Rodrigo Lopez, who will be familiar to some Chivas USA fans, has been in hot form lately. What's he doing so well, and do you think he could be in the USL MVP race this year?
Roro is probably in the best run of form that I've ever seen him in, which is saying something considering how fantastic he played last season. He is currently the leading USL goalscorer with 5 goals in 6 games. These are not just run of the mill type of goals that he is scoring either. These are 60 yards out, getting nationwide recognition type of goals.
But those are just the highlights, Roro does more for the Republic than just score goals. He sees plays that few players in USL do, makes passes that few in USL can, and is one of the better players in the league on set piece delivery. The entire Sacramento Republic team is better with him on the field. He elevates them from a playoff team to a championship team.
He was a finalist for USL MVP last season and with last year's winner, Orlando City's Kevin Molino, gone it seems like Roro is not just in the race. He's leading it.
3. Sacramento Republic have very publicly expressed their interest in moving to MLS, but at the moment it looks like they will have to wait several years, at least, to make the move up. Does that dampen the enthusiasm surrounding the club at all, that they appear destined to remain in USL for quite some time, as other teams from Atlanta, LA, Minnesota and (maybe) Miami join MLS first?
There have always been some concerns among the fanbase that the failure to quickly deliver an MLS expansion slot would lead to less interest in the team. However, from what I have seen that is not the case. If anything, the Republic are more relevant in Sacramento then they were last season. They are already selling out the newly renovated Bonney Field and have a deal in place to broadcast half of their home games live on local TV.
Any negative fan sentiment that has come out of MLS seemingly telling Sacramento to wait until later has been frustration directed at the whole expansion process in general. The anger here has mostly been channeled toward the league and what some view as a double standard for expansion. Sacramento fans look at the expansion picture, see that they have done everything MLS told them to do and more, and still see Miami or Minnesota get in with less complete bids.
4. (Bonus) Prediction for Friday's game?
The last time Sacramento Republic and the Blues met it was a 6-1 Republic victory at Anteater Stadium. While I do not expect such a lopsided scoreline this time around, I still cannot help but feel that Sacramento will be the winners on Friday.
But then again, I also expected Arizona United to still be undefeated this week. So anything can happen.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!