Sacramento Republic FC continued its undefeated start to the 2023 season on Saturday night, and brought San Diego Loyal SC’s perfect start to an halt as the hosts took a 1-0 win before 9,088 fans at Heart Health Park for their second victory of the season.
Here are three things we took away from the heavyweight clash.
When we talked about Luis Felipe Fernandes this preseason, one of the things we noted was that the Brazilian veteran scored more goals in last year’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup than in the USL Championship. That showed a penchant for coming up big in key games, and on Saturday night he delivered once again with a perfect moment to mark his 100th regular season appearances in the Championship.
A perfectly placed header off Rodrigo Lopez’s set piece from the right found the right corner as part of another solid display by Fernandes, who completed 26 of 31 passes and won 2 of 3 tackles over his 90 minutes. The 27-year-old isn’t someone you’re going to rely on for goals over then course of the season, but it’s uncanny how he pops up to deliver when his side needs a big moment delivered of late.
Fernandes’ goal four minutes before halftime set up Sacramento for a part of the game it seems well suited for; closing out victories. While SD Loyal held two-thirds of possession in the second half at Heart Health Park, it struggled to find clear openings in Republic FC’s well-structured system. A chance early in the second half for Elliot Collier that found the outside the side-netting was the closest the visitors came to an equalizer as Sacramento held Ronaldo Damus in check after he was introduced with 24 minutes to go.
We saw similar play out in Sacramento’s opening game of the season on the road against El Paso Locomotive FC, where it clamped down on its hosts and barely gave them a look-in to answer back. If that’s what we can expect throughout this campaign then it’s going to be uphill work for any side that falls behind against Head Coach Mark Briggs’ squad.
As good as Sacramento was, San Diego Loyal SC certainly was at least a match for their intensity and will be ruing the chance Evan Conway was unable to convert early in the game. After a fizzing shot by Collin Martin could only be parried by Republic FC goalkeeper Danny Vitiello, Conway was there for the rebound but sent it wide of the left post. It was a chance you’d have expected the striker to finish, but proved his only shot of the match.
As frustrating as that moment would prove, San Diego should go away taking positives from its display. The side was able to control the tempo consistently, battled evenly with Sacramento when it came to winning possession on the ground and in the air, and got another good overall display by goalkeeper Koke Vegas. This game didn’t go SD Loyal’s way, but they showed enough to say they’ll be right among the contenders again this year.