Meeting Republic F.C. and what we learned from Sacramento Soccer Day
Sacramento’s newest sports franchise now has a name, and it is Republic F.C.
Team owner Warren Smith officially unveiled the crest and jersey of the city’s new USL-Pro team between a double header of exhibition matches in front of a packed house at Raley Field.
Here’s a rundown of what else we learned Thursday evening:
1. Soccer can draw a crowd in Sacramento
The biggest takeaway from Sacramento Soccer Day Thursday at Raley Field is contained in a number: 14,014. That’s the number of tickets sold — enough to sell out the "bowl" of the stadium seats, and begin to fill the lawn.
It wasn’t just the size of the crowd, but its diversity. Families with young children seated beside 30-something bearded hipsters, with a healthy dose of pre-teens, teens and recent college grads mixed in for good measure. You could hear Spanish and English while waiting in line for beer or hot dogs, and the home run terrance – an area behind the outfield wall – was filled with kids playing tag and other games in the grass.
The set of games played – Sac All-star versus San Jose Earthquakes reserves and Norwich City of the English Premiere League versus Mexico’s Dorados de Sinalo — were exhibition matches in more ways than one. Sacramento Soccer Day was a way for the franchise, which we can now finally call by its proper name, Republic F.C., to show that soccer can work in this city. It was a way to show people – fans, future players, media, city officials, potential investors and yes, Major League Soccer, what’s possible with soccer in Sacramento. It could be easy to get caught up in the hype – this was a game featuring an English Premier League Team and a Mexican League team, not a midseason USL-Pro matchup. It will be a challenge to keep the momentum up, but by any standard, it’s hard not to judge the day as a resounding success.
2. Preki is taking this job to heart
The loudest crowd moment of the night didn’t come from a goal. It came during the unveiling ceremony, when Republic F.C. Coach Predrag Radosavljević or Preki, asked the crowd, "Do you want to be in MLS?" The response was a resounding "yes".
He used a line that I’ve heard him say a few times since he was announced as coach: "Sacramento means business," and there was a certain intensity to his voice and stare as he said it that conveyed he is taking his appointment as more than a job, but a mission. He has always been known as an intense coach, but the context here is powerfull. He established himself as a talented coach in MLS but worked for arguably the two worst franchises – run by people that did not, in the eyes of many, respect the game. He was most recently fired during his first season coaching a struggling team that he had brought into playoff contention. It’s the kind of experience that could make someone feel either jilted or motivated, and it seems for Preki, it’s the latter. He wanted another shot, but none came his way, until now. It’s a story of "Comeback kid" meets "underdog.” Let’s see where this goes.
3. Warren Smith is willing to spend
The TV commercials that played on the jumbotron at the start of the unveiling ceremony were sleek, well-produced (by Franklin Productions in Midtown), and epic in tone.This was not a low budget affair and more than you would expect from a third division team in the United States. Of course, Smith has one goal in mind for Republic F.C. — MLS. It seems he decided that he needs to go big to get there. Hiring Preki was an initial statement of intent and playing epic TV commercials on the jumbotron in front of 14,000 people at Raley Field was another.
4. Better coordination with the supporters group will be necessary
The Republic F.C went to great pains to involve the Tower Bridge Battalion in the rollout of the team. The voices in the above commercial you hear are theirs, with some help from Pro-tools. A group of about 40 to 50 of them ran out on the field during the unveiling ceremony, carrying a large banner of the team’s crest, and stood behind Warren Smith while he addressed the crowd.
But, as their eyes drifted over the packed stadium, some of them began to notice something amiss: Their reserved section was filled. Somehow, with the high number of walk-up ticket sales, what was supposed to be the reserved supporters section, a place where they could all group together and make noise, had been sold.
The Battalion did the best they could, taking what seats were left. When everyone couldn’t fit together, some TBB members resigned themselves to standing behind the seating area. It was far from ideal for them or the people they were next to, who suddenly found themselves in the midst of a group of mostly guys in matching red shirts, standing while chanting with a megaphone.
Some of the confusion stemmed from the fact that the staff at Raley Field – competent as they were – were not familiar with soccer supporters groups. One exasperated staffer, who was probably doing his best to make everyone happy, reportedly said "This has never happened at a baseball game," and he was right.
The team will fix this before the season starts, and despite the confusion, the Battalion was proud to have played a part in what was an important night for soccer in Sacramento. At the end of the night, everyone went home happy.
It’s important to remember that the Republic F.C. is a startup with a lean staff, and they are bound to have some growing pains and mix-ups. The question is how quickly they can learn from them.
5. West Sac represents
During the game, AJ Tendick of Bike Dog Brewery, remarked that he could see people walking from from neighborhoods in West Sacramento to Raley Field. That’s the kind of open, community spirit Republic F.C. should try to embody, and as the team comes together, they might want to consider holding more events and doing more outreach in West Sac. For the team to be successful, it needs to be a "place" where residents of the grid, the suburbs and working class urban neighborhoods come together. Who knows, if the team can’t find a way to build a soccer-specific stadium in Sacramento, maybe it could find a home across the river.
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Disclosure: Jared Goyette is on Twitter - @JaredGoyette