Luis Felipe Fernandes' fourth goal of the season helped power Sacramento Republic FC to a fifth victory in a seven-game undefeated run to start the campaign on Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC
If there’s anything a club could learn from San Antonio FC’s success in the past two seasons, it’s how important the opening goal of a game can be.
The defending USL Championship title holders are undefeated when scoring the opening goal in their games since the start of the 2021 season, a run of 49 consecutive games (42-0-7).
Now, one of SAFC’s chief rivals at the top of the Western Conference is taking a leaf out of the same book.
Sacramento Republic FC struck early again on Saturday night through Luis Felipe Fernandes found the net in just the ninth minute to put the hosts ahead against Detroit City FC. It proved the difference in a 1-0 win that didn’t see the current Western Conference leader run through the gears in the manner it had at some points so far this season, but still delivered enough quality moments at both ends of the field to see out the win.
Republic FC has now scored three goals inside the opening 15 minutes in the league this season and nine goals in the first half overall, the most of any team in the Championship so far this campaign.
“It’s something that we talk about,” said Sacramento Head Coach Mark Briggs of getting out to fast starters. “It’s something that we want to do as a team. And we have to continue to come out the block hot and continue to play with intensity from that first whistle. So, it’s great to come out and score a goal and give ourselves positive momentum.”
Those attacking numbers combined with a defense that has conceded only once in its opening seven games are a sign of a club that has taken another step forward from its successes last year in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. While DCFC had some chances to find an equalizer, most notably for Ben Morris just two minutes after Fernandes’ opening goal, Sacramento goalkeeper Danny Vitiello wasn’t forced into a save as Le Rouge’s attack sputtered again.
Fernandes, on the other hand, continued what’s been a remarkable start to the season. The central midfielder’s goal was his fourth of the season in just seven appearances. That’s just one fewer than his single-season best as his work-rate around the field combined with a greater freedom to push into the final third with Arnold Lopez stepping into the holding midfield role this season has paid off handsomely.
“It was a great fight,” said Fernandes, who’s still getting work done in the center of the park as well. “A different [kind] of opponent than we've faced lately, different than the teams that we just faced before. They sit back a little bit in a lower block so we had to adjust to that, and we worked all week [on what] we could do to attack them, and it worked at the end. Happy with the result.”
With the victory maintaining a three-point lead at the top of the Western Conference, Sacramento’s fast starts have paved the way to just the second seven-game undefeated streak to start a season in the club’s history, and the first time the side has won five times in its first seven outings.
“Sometimes good teams find ways to win when they’re not playing at their most efficient,” added Briggs. “I didn’t think we were at our most efficient tonight, but we got the three points and we got the job done. And that's what good teams do.”