by Matt George, Sports 1140 KHTK
To say that the Sacramento Republic FC have been in top-form as of late would be an understatement. Unbeaten in their last seven USL matches, the Republic are marching up the Western Conference standings with only 12 matches remaining this season.
Sacramento Republic FC currently sits in 5th place in the USL West with 34 points. Their next two matches, one this Saturday and the other next Wednesday, happen to be against the 4th and 3rd place Reno 1868 FC and Swope Park Rangers.
The Republic FC invited KHTK to the club's training facilities on Wednesday to watch practice and sit down with head coach Paul Buckle. Encouraged by his clubs' recent success, Buckle was optimistic about Sacramento's crucial upcoming matches.
"We have had a bit of rest and now we are back at it. It's another game, of course. We finished (Reno) off last time and we will try and do it again. We know it is going to be a difficult game."
Earlier in the season, the Republic FC were struggling to find the back of the net, going scoreless for a stretch of six matches. Since then, they have scored 21 goals in the last 11 matches, including six multi-goal performances.
"The key to wins is performance. We have performed well now for a long time. It doesn't surprise me that we have been on a great run because we have a really great group of players. We work hard. The harder you work, the luckier you get normally in our game. There are always setbacks, and we have had a bit of that, but we are on a great run."
Buckle explained that, tactically, they haven't done too much differently from when they were struggling just a few months ago. The major difference: confidence.
"We always have created chances all season. The pleasing thing for me is we are converting them. We have seen some really good games at Papa Murphy's (Park). And we have seen that recently, in tight games, we have been able to keep clean sheets. Along with a really good US Open Cup run, I am really pleased. But that doesn't mean we get complacent. The players are hungry."
The Republic FC made their deepest US Open Cup run in the club's history, even defeating the MLS' Real Salt Lake at Papa Murphy's Park in Sacramento. That run has given the players a jolt of energy and enthusiasm that has yet to wear off.
"If you can have good cup runs, it can instill some belief. Players function at their best when they believe and are confident. There was no luck about our cup run. That instilled some confidence in our boys."
Coach Buckle admitted that the early season scoring woes were incredibly frustrating at times, but the support from the Sacramento fans helped carry them through.
"Our fans are the best. End of story. I am not saying that lightly. I mean it. We have been in games where we have been doing really well and they're electric. And we have not been doing so well, and they are still electric. I tell you what, in modern day soccer that takes some doing."
He explained that, despite the negativity and frustration, the fans were always encouraging and uplifting.
"They are so positive. This is such a positive club. Such a positive place. It's refreshing. And you need it. You absolutely need it. That's why great things are going to happen to Sacramento and the Sacramento people. It's been a brilliant journey for me these last 2 years, building the club on and off the field, and I am looking forward now to, with the backing of our supporters, seeing what we can achieve."
Recently, construction has begun on the brand new, state-of-the-art soccer stadium in downtown Sacramento. Confidence that the city will be selected for an MLS expansion team is at an all-time high.
"Our club going to MLS is a no brainer to me," Buckle said, "For me it's a case of when, not if. We check every box. We have an unbelievable stadium planned, unbelievable fans, a winning team now for four years. We are ready."
Another part of the Republic FC's appeal for an MLS expansion is the quality of their roster, consisting of multiple players selected for their home country's international teams. Buckle was eager to share what that has meant to the success of the club.
"We are very proud to have internationals on a team that is barely four years old. It's another massive check in our box. We have recruited very well over the last four years. We have the right blend. We have a lot of kids on national teams out of our academy. It makes me proud. I don't like losing them for games, but it gives others opportunity. That's what Sacramento does. It gives people an opportunity."
Despite being from England, Buckle has been following Team USA soccer while getting the chance to learn from USA head coach Bruce Arena.
"We were down in Nashville to watch (Team USA) train. Bruce spoke with us. I have been watching them closely. Bruce has been fabulous for the team. We have seen a big upturn. They play with a freedom. I have learned a lot from listening to Bruce. I watched them against Panama live. One thing's for sure, the players are fighting and playing. As a head coach, that's what you want. Forget the tactics, they are fighting for the shirt, and that's really good to see."
Saturday night, in Papa Murphy's Park, the Republic FC will host 4th place Reno 1868 FC. A win would give Sacramento a three-point vault over Reno into 4th, one step closer to catching Swope Park in 3rd.
"The key for me is to be in the race. Come out on the front foot at home in front of our brilliant fans," Buckle said, "Let's keep pushing on because we have a real opportunity to make it a great season."
for more features.