Photo courtesy Real Monarchs SLC
SANDY, Utah – Sacramento Republic FC goalkeeper Evan Newton had faced the challenge of a penalty shootout in each of the past two USL Cup Playoffs. On Friday night, as his side faced the prospect of a shootout determining the fate of their season, he had a simple message for his teammates.
“I told our guys to step up and hit it confidently and I’ll do the rest,” said Newton. “Fortunately, I was able to do that and the guys did their jobs.”
After suffering the disappointment of falling in the Western Conference Quarterfinals as a No. 1-seed a year ago, Republic FC took their chance at redemption as Newton made a pair of saves to knock out 2017 USL Regular Season champion Real Monarchs SLC 3-1 in a penalty shootout to advance to the next round after a compelling 1-1 draw at through regulation and extra time at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“I think we deserved it,” said Republic FC Paul Buckle. “I feel disappointed for the Monarchs because they been great this year but they should be proud of what they’ve done. We know how that feels last year. For us, the boys I’m very proud.”
While their seeding from a season ago coming into the playoffs had been reversed, resulting in Republic FC’s first postseason contest away from Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento looked like the side that had put in some excellent displays in an inconsistent regular season.
The presence of Wilson Kneeshaw, who only returned from injury a week ago as a substitute in Sacramento’s 2-2 draw with Reno 1868 FC played a role as the English forward looked to get in behind the Monarchs’ defense and into the attacking channels. Kneeshaw provided the assist on Sacramento’s opening goal in the 49th minute, producing a low ball into the center of the penalty area as the Monarchs were trying to shepherd it out for a goal kick that allowed Luis Espino to pounce.
“We wanted to play two strikers out,” said Buckle. “We wanted to invite their wings backs higher up the field. Then we knew with Wilson’s pace we could get in. We wanted to play from the back. Draw them and then get in and it work. I thought we looked dangerous and you know we mix our game up. We didn’t just play the line, we made some good passages of play.”
While Sacramento controlled the patterns of play for the opening hour, a surge from the Monarchs was always on the cards. Real’s tactical adjustment saw the hosts find another gear offensively, and when Agustin Cazarez pressed too hard in the penalty area to bring down the Monarchs’ Max Lachowekci to give the hosts a penalty kick that Chandler Hoffman converted it could have been that all of the work had gone to waste.
Instead, Republic FC refocused and redoubled its efforts. The visitors looked the more likely to score in extra time as Hayden Partain forced a big save from Connor Sparrow in the opening minute of the additional 30 minutes. Lamin Suma almost became an unlikely hero as his curled shot went just over in the 117th minute, the midfielder having played only 37 minutes in the regular season before being brought on in the 101st minute.
As Partain, James Kiffe and Jeremy Hall all held their nerve from the penalty spot in the shootout, though, in the end the role of hero fell to Newton as his saves to deny the Monarchs’ Sebastian Velasquez and Hoffman – arguably Real’s best two outfield players this season – sent the side through.
“We had a good game plan coming in,” said Newton. “We’ve played this club a lot, Open Cup, twice this season. We knew each other you could tell, but unfortunately someone has to win and someone has to lose. Last year we were on the losing end of it and fortunately we were on the winning end this year.”