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Western Conf. Notebook – Republic FC Not Content

By USLSoccer.com Staff, 03/19/18, 1:00PM EDT

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Switchbacks show off strong defense; OKC looking for more in front of goal

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sacramento Republic FC got off to an ideal start to the new season with its 2-1 victory against San Antonio FC on Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd of 11,569 fans at Papa Murphy's Park, but despite the impressive win against its fellow Western Conference contender the hosts still felt there was room for improvement going into the rest of the 2018 season.

“I think the end result was successful. I wouldn’t say it was a successful 90 minutes, I would say it was more like 70-75 minutes that we were good and consistent,” said Republic FC Head Coach Simon Elliott. “We need to be 90-minute team, we are not there yet, but there were some good things. Obviously some nice goals, I thought that we were tough at the end, I think we could smarten up a little bit, but I thought we showed good grit and determination at the end.”

While holding out for the final 15 minutes against a determined SAFC challenge got Republic FC the win, there was certainly still work to be done. One of those areas was turnovers, with Sacramento finishing the night with a passing accuracy rate of 79.9 percent, a slight drop from the club 81.46 rate in 2017.

“Turnovers are where we need to improve. Throughout the game, little details make all the difference over 90 minutes. I think that we turned the ball over a little too much,” said Elliott. “At times we were really good, but overall if we can eliminate stuff like that it will help us a lot. Then in the last 10 minutes they start to push guys forward and they start to push, we just need to be a little bit smarter with the way that we control the ball.”

GOAL ACCOMPLISHED BY SWITCHBACKS: After narrowly missing out on the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC came into its opening match against the LA Galaxy II determined to get 2018 off to a strong start. The Switchbacks impressed across the board, especially defensively to pick up the three points in a 2-0 win that saw Los Dos end then contest with only one shot on goal.

“That was the way you want to start the season. All the way from Stew [Ceus] all the way up to AJ [Ajeakwa],” said Switchbacks midfielder Jordan Burt. “From the start of the game we came out with a ton of energy, a ton of quality, and I think it showed in the final score.”

That quality got the Switchbacks what they were looking for in a defensive display that showed a marked difference from the 2017 season when Colorado Springs conceded 51 goals in the regular season. With a new central defensive pairing in Jamal Jack and Taylor Hunter, the cohesiveness which is often hard to achieve in the early stages of a new season seemed to have arrived quickly, and allowed the Switchbacks to help themselves to 54.2-percent possession, largely due to a 75-percent tackle success rate.

“Overall, I thought it was a good match. Going in, our goal was a shutout and we accomplished that today. Defensively we were fantastic,” said Switchbacks Head Coach Steve Trittschuh. “I think we're still a couple of weeks from where we need to be, but this gives us some good things to work on ahead of Portland next week. Overall, I can't really complain about anything.”

WORK TO BE DONE FOR OKC: It took just six minutes for OKC Energy FC to score its first goal of the 2018 USL season, and things were looking good. But an inability to kill off the game against a fighting Tulsa Roughnecks FC side made for a stressful debut for new Head Coach Steve Cooke at Taft Stadium in Saturday's 1-0 victory in the Black Gold Derby.

“It’s my first my first game as head coach of Energy FC. It’s the home opener which adds a little bit more spice to the game and the local rivalry adds even more,” said Cooke. “The significance to me is that we got three points, we had a fantastic crowd here and we did enough to entertain them and send them home happy. Hopefully, we can continue to do this and improve.”

And there is certainly room to improve as getting a return of just one goal from 21 shots is not going to be good enough as the season draws on. That return was largely because of wayward finishing with the hosts registering just six shots on target (28.6 percent shooting accuracy) leading to the match being tighter than it probably should have been.

“I think when we get those opportunities, we have to be a little bit more clinical because it can come back and bite you,” said Cooke. “I’m happy with the result and I’m happy with the three points and I’m happy with the players and their commitment to one another. Obviously, it’s game one of 34, it’s three points, which is terrific but we have another 99 to play for. If we’re going to challenge and get to where we want to go, we’ve got to improve and we have to be better in every aspect of the game.”

Those improvements will surely come, Cooke saw the challenges during the match and made a subtle adjustment at halftime to gain more of the ball. While the change didn't bring about a change in the scoreline, it was effective in starving Tulsa of possession as the Roughnecks tried to push for an equalizer.

“I think we had the ball a bit more in the second half than the first half and had a territory advantage in the second half…we seemed to push them back a bit,” said Cooke. “I thought there were too many cheap giveaways, too many passes that didn’t get out quick enough that led a bit to our downfall. I think when you don’t play out of pressure fast enough, sometimes you invite that counterattack.”

OKC will hope to fix its shooting this week as it faces a tough road match against Phoenix Rising FC, and will need to be more clinical if it is to pick up another three points.

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