As a team with an excellent infrastructure and MLS aspirations, Sacramento Republic are a team with a target on their backs according to head coach Paul Buckle when we spoke with him last season. They’re a team others are keen to beat, and a good measuring stick for others.
By that thinking, a young WFC2 side should be delighted with their showing in a 0-0 draw at home to the Republic at Thunderbird Stadium on Saturday noon, and ‘Caps coach Rich Fagan was.
“I thought it was a great game,” Fagan said after the draw. “For the supporters and the neutral, it was a good game of football. Pleased.”
It was a different looking WFC2 side from what we’ve seen the past few games, both in personnel and formation. Gone was the three at the back formation that had worked well in wins against Seattle and Portland, and in a narrow loss last week against Conference leaders San Antonio.
In it’s place was a 4-3-3 formation that at times mirrored the 4-1-4-1 that the first team have been playing of late. That wasn’t on purpose, more down to the personnel that Fagan had available to him for this one.
“A lot of the times it comes down to the players we’ve got available to us,” Fagan said. “We’ve got a few injuries, so that played into it for sure.”
With Ben McKendry and Cole Seiler away in Montreal with the MLS team, and Marco Bustos reaggravating a hamstring injury, it was a younger and more inexperienced WFC2 starting line-up, with five teenagers facing a far more experienced Sacramento team.
Yet the young ‘Caps more than held their own and will be left feeling they should have taken all three points from the Republic, instead of just one, all of which can only bode well for the long season still to come.
“Yeah absolutely,” Fagan agreed. “I said in preseason they were ready to make a difference and today you saw that. Every single one of them. Whether you’re one of the young ones or one of the more experienced players, everyone pulled their weight today.”
Sacramento were the stronger team in the early going, and had Spencer Richey to thank for keeping them in the match, with the keeper producing three top class saves in the opening 16 minutes to keep the Republic at bay, and five overall. It allowed the young ‘Caps to settle and find their feet in the game, leaving Fagan enthused.
“Spencer’s fantastic,” the ‘Caps coach said. “In the changing room he’s vocal, he’s a good leader. On the pitch he’s got great presence, and some of the saves he’s made today to keep us in the game today, fantastic.”
But Fagan also praised the strong defensive play of his captain Sem de Wit, who hardly put a foot wrong in a testing afternoon.
“Sem’s really strong,” Fagan said of the Dutchman. “In all the games that we’ve played he hasn’t really played much at centre back for us this season. He’s played more as a six. For him to make those adjustments without looking like he’s out of place, he’s been excellent.”
The final stats may show that Sacramento had the better of the possession (59.5% to 40.5%) and outshot their hosts 9 to 7, but you left the match feeling WFC2 should have come away with the win.
It was an assured performance, and the ‘Caps had a string of excellent chances in the second half only to find Evan Newton in inspired form in the Sacramento goal, producing fantastic stops to deny Gloire Amanda and Thomas Sanner. Amanda also couldn’t have come close with two efforts that zipped inches wide from giving the Residency alumni his first pro goal.
Sanner adding an offensive spark when he came on in the 68th minute and latest addition Nazeem Bartman got a run out in the final few minutes and showed glimpses of the exciting talent that he could be for WFC2 this season.
The ‘Caps may have been blanked for only the second time this season, but there was certainly enough creativity on display to please and Fagan put a lot of that down to the formation change.
“That was one of the reason we talked about changing the shape again this week,” Fagan revealed. “I felt last week that we didn’t create enough chances but today we probably created enough to get something out of the game.”
The point sees WFC2 drop to 8th in the Western Conference standings on eight points, still in the playoff places this early in the season and with a 2-2-2 record. There was definitely enough on display to leave the ‘Caps feeling hopeful of what is to come from this young group. The biggest disappointment was that only 407 fans came out to see it.