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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Sac Republic upset in home postseason match

KAELYN TUERMER LEE / AGGIE

Sacramento’s USL club loses 2-1 to Swope Park Rangers

Sacramento’s local soccer club, Sacramento Republic FC, hosted the first round of the USL Western Conference playoffs Saturday night, as the team took on seventh-seeded Swope Park Rangers.

In front of a crowd in attendance at Papa Murphy’s Park, the game opened with both sides vying for control. In the first 10 minutes, possession stood around 50-50.

It didn’t take much longer for the game to open up, as Sac Republic recorded the night’s first real challenge at goal. Midfielder Keven Aleman fired in a hard-hit shot from the top of the 18 that was knocked wide of goal by Swope Park goalkeeper Eric Dick.

The shot from Aleman seemed to awaken his squad. Sac Republic began to control possession and press forward following the attempt and finally broke through just a few minutes later.

In the 16th minute, midfielder Villyan Bijev capitalized off an errant Swope Park clearance, slotting the ball into the lower left corner of the net to put Sac Republic on top 1-0. The goal could not have been scored without the hustle of Sac Republic defender Shannon Gomez, who ran down a ball that appeared to have been rolling out of bounds near the left corner. Gomez made a diving slide to kick the ball back inside, across the Swope Park goal and ultimately forced the awkward attempt at clearance by a Swope Park defender and allowed the ball to fall at Bijev’s feet.

The early breakthrough understandably sent the fans into a frenzy, as Sac Republic did not let the foot off the gas pedal just yet. Two minutes following the goal, midfielder Jure Matjasic wasted no time, attacking Swope Park with a rocket shot from the right side that required an athletic save from Dick to stop the ball from going in.

The home team continued to hold possession and threatened to score again in the wake of the first goal, but Swope Park quickly found a way to counter Sac Republic’s aggression and quiet the crowd.

After Sac Republic failed to properly clear a Swope Park corner, midfielder Wan Kuzain found himself in possession of the ball inside Sac Republic’s 18-yard box. Kuzain danced through a couple of defenders and sent in a shot that narrowly beat Republic goalkeeper Josh Cohen to the near post, leveling the game at 1 a-piece.

“I saw the play forming — I know they worked for that, that’s their bread and butter,” Cohen said. “But it was opening up and we didn’t have the time to react to respond and so I tried to attract the ball as much as I could, saw it as it came around our defense. And the guy did well — he put it hard and low in the corner.”

Less than five minutes later, Swope Park struck again, this time off a well-placed shot from forward Hadji Barry. His teammate, midfielder Rassambak Akhmatov, sprinted along the right touchline and slid in a cross to the trailing Barry, who sat all alone behind the Republic defenders. Barry took a first-time touch and buried the ball past Cohen to put the visitors up 2-1.

Sac Republic Head Coach, Simon Elliott, was critical of his team’s miscues that allowed Swope Park to steal the lead.

“We turned the ball over on bad spots,” Elliott said. “They tried to block us on one side and we turned it over and then we let them play right through us. The three-v-two at the back — there are numbers up at the back and somehow we conspire to get numbers down on our back four, which should never happen.”

Sac Republic and the home crowd were stunned, as the game’s momentum seemed to have taken a complete turn after Bijev’s goal. Swope Park took the 2-1 lead into halftime and ultimately held strong throughout the second half to secure the upset victory and send Sac Republic out of the postseason.

Sac Republic didn’t leave the pitch without a fight, however, as the team forced the ball forward in the second half. Several near misses on shot attempts and cross connections haunted the home side. Sac Republic threatened on multiple occasions, but could not quite crack the defensive-minded Swope Park squad.

On top of Sac Republic’s inability to find the back of the net for a second time, it appeared that Swope Park took advantage of several injuries and time-wasting tactics as the game drew close to ending. This lack of urgency by a team in the lead is not uncommon in soccer, but it still frustrated the home side.

“Yeah, they were definitely wasting time,” Cohen said. “It’s frustrating, and would I do the exact same thing in their shoes? The answer is yes.”

Cameron Iwasa, Sac Republic’s forward and leading goal-scorer, was bottled up for the entirety of the evening. The team’s inability to get Iwasa the ball in a quality position was another major source of frustration. Iwasa was visibly disappointed following the match, and blamed his team’s loss on a lack of execution. His coach agreed, explaining more in detail about what went wrong.

“I think we need to give Cameron the ball — I mean, we can’t just lump stuff up to him, you know, we need to have a little bit of patience, we need to be able to play through pressure, we need to be able to handle the ball under a little bit of pressure,” Elliott said. “It’s a thinking game at the end of the day, it’s not just all fire and blood and brimstone and passion and all that — you have to think your way through situations, and I thought they did a better job of that then we did tonight.”

This was obviously a disappointing ending to what was otherwise a fantastic regular season for Sac Republic. The team finished second in the USL’s Western Conference and, going into Saturday’s match, had not lost a game since Aug. 18. Despite a season full of positives, the first-round postseason loss negated most of what the team accomplished and hoped to accomplish going forward, according to Elliott.

“No [I’m not proud of the way we battled today], because it’s a playoff game and it needs to be better,” Elliott said. “I don’t care how well the season went or how badly the season went. When you’re in the playoffs, it’s a whole different game. If you’re not prepared to bring it, then sorry — it’s simply not good enough.”

A great regular season can turn into a nightmare postseason, and unfortunately for Sac Republic, this turned out to be the case.

Written by: Dominic Faria — sports@theaggie.org

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