Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC
LOS ANGELES – The buildup to Wednesday night’s Round of 16 contest between the USL’s Sacramento Republic FC and Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC couldn’t have been more different, with LAFC having had an 11-day break since its last competitive action and Republic FC entering having played three games over that span, including back-to-back road contests over the past week.
But while the road to the biggest game of the season so far for Republic FC has been a longer one than usual, the way the club’s depth has factored into lineup rotations that have aimed to keep players in good shape going into the game at Banc of California Stadium on Wednesday night (10:30 p.m. ET | Match Center) has the side in good spirits.
“It’s very challenging, but I think that’s what you thrive on as a player and as a professional we look forward to the games,” said Republic FC midfielder Villyan Bijev on Tuesday. “It’s challenging because we have to take care of our bodies, I think our coaching staff has done a really good job of rotating players and keeping everybody fresh.”
Sacramento certainly showed little sign of fatigue this past Saturday as they racked up a USL 2018 regular season single-game high of 37 shots against San Antonio FC at Toyota Field. While the result didn’t go their way on the night as SAFC goalkeeper Diego Restrepo and his defense led by Cyprian Hedrick kept Republic FC at bay in a 1-0 result, Sacramento is hoping the positive momentum from that contest continues into its clash with LAFC.
“We’ve been performing decently well,” said Republic FC Head Coach Simon Elliott. “I think we played pretty well last game even though we didn’t get the result, but we want both, we want the performance and the result so it’s a case of bringing those two things together tomorrow.”
Republic FC won’t have to face a full-strength LAFC side on Wednesday with the likes of Mexico’s Carlos Vela and Costa Riva’s Marcos Urena away on World Cup duty, but there is still plenty of attacking threat within the MLS expansion club’s squad. Rookie Joao Moutinho was the goal-scorer in LAFC’s 1-0 win when the sides met at Papa Murphys’ Park in preseason, and Republic FC will also have to deal with the likes of Diego Rossi, who has recorded five goals and six assists in MLS this season, and former U.S. international Lee Nguyen, who has made a positive impact since his recent addition to the side.
LAFC is also undefeated at Banc of California Stadium, going 2-0-3 in league play and defeating Fresno FC in the Fourth Round of the Open Cup at its new state-of-the-art venue. If it’s looking for inspiration to record the road upset, Republic FC could take the example of the Richmond Kickers, who in 2011 became the first side to defeat Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park on the way to a berth in the Semifinals of that year’s tournament.
For his part Elliott is welcoming the chance to play at one of the newest and biggest stages in the U.S. soccer landscape on Wednesday night, but the side is focused on making sure its preparations remain the same as they would for any other contest.
“It’s just the name of the league that they play in,” said Bijev on the difference in Wednesday’s match. “We prepare the same, it’s going to be 11 guys against us no matter who it is, so the biggest difference for us is the name of the league that they play in. We’re going to be just as focused and just as ready to play.”
Having reached this stage of the Open Cup a season ago before falling to the LA Galaxy in last year’s tournament, Republic FC’s players are hopeful their return trip to the City of Angels will be a successful one this time around.
“It’s definitely going to be an exciting match, but I expect us to come out there with everything we’ve got, give it 110 percent and get a victory, you know?” said Republic FC Wilson Kneeshaw.