Sacramento Republic host Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Saturday night at 7:30 PM. S2 will journey to Bonney Field in a Western Conference clash between two sides that could end the night in first. Republic continue their massive success both on and off the field while featuring former Sounder David Estrada as a key to their attack. S2 should have a full selection of loaned players as the first team has few injuries and no call-ups at this time.
SaH: What's Sacramento's plan if they don't get an MLS nod by the end of the year? They're already averaging a higher gate than every non-MLS team except Indy XI.
Ream: MLS has told Sacramento that it's a matter of "when" not "if" they will get an MLS team. Sacramento's plan is exactly the same as it has been from day one: to reach MLS. Even if they are skipped over in favor of Miami (looking very likely) in this "round" of expansion, the goal remains the same. When interviewed, during the first-ever rain game in Sacramento history two weeks ago, Republic FC president Warren Smith had this to say about the team's progress on and off the field: "I think what we need to do is have fun. This is what it's all about. There's been too much focus on what's gonna happen instead of what's happening...I want to remind you, when we announced in December 2012, there was a list flying around about potential (MLS) cities and Sacramento was 28th on the list. We're not 28th on the list anymore."
The Republic and Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson are currently working on a plan called Operation Turnkey, which calls for the breaking of ground on Republic FC's new downtown soccer-specific stadium by the end of the year, should MLS come calling in 2015. According to everything the league and the Republic have said in the last few months, it appears as if Sacramento to MLS is highly likely, and I would expect them to be in MLS sometime in the next five years.
SaH: When S2 and Republic last met Sacramento was quite injured. How has the return to health changed their play?
Ream: Sac Republic dealt with a variety of injuries in its season-opening loss to S2. Most notable of the injuries was to USL MVP front-runner Rodrigo Lopez, who bounced back the next week and has since contributed five goals and two assists in just 547 minutes of play. Also notable was the absence of 2014 Defender of the Year Nemanja Vukovic. With its first-choice centerback pairing of Vukovic and Mickey Daly on the field, the Republic have allowed zero goals in 241 minutes. With backup Derek Foran and just one of Vukovic or Daly, the Republic have allowed 12 goals in 479 minutes.
Daly has been out since injuring himself in the 36th minute of the Republic's 2-1 loss to OC Blues. Two minutes after he exited the game, Orange County scored its opening goal of the game. Daly's status for this weekend is still uncertain. 2014 starter Max Alvarez has also returned to the Republic lineup recently and has added a dynamic element to Sacramento's midfield going forward.
SaH: David Estrada signed with Sac just before the S2 match. He's now started every game. What's the former Sounder mean to Republic?
Ream: After a shaky game against Seattle, David Estrada has been nothing but good for the team, contributing a goal and three assists in eight games. In Preki's 4-4-2 empty bucket system, the onus of scoring falls mostly upon the outside midfielders, as both centerforwards are there to take up space, make good runs off the ball and lay the ball off to the onrushing Lopez and Alvarez. So far, Estrada has formed a cerebral partnership with Lopez and fellow forward Justin Braun. He has shown impeccable off-the-ball movement, a high work rate and a next-level ability to pass the ball. It's safe to say that Estrada is a first-choice starter, even with the return of 2014 leading goalscorer Thomas Stewart.
Projected Lineup: (4-4-2 empty bucket) McLain, Kiffe, Vukovic, Foran, Klimenta, Lopez, Mirkovic, Guzman, Alvarez, Estrada, Braun