I’ve been meaning to write a post on pro soccer coming to Sacramento for some time now, and maybe it was the fact that Eric beat me to the punch, but I’ve finally awoken from my blogging malaise and am ready to chime in on a subject that I truly am passionate about.
Like professional soccer in the rest of the United Sates, pro soccer in California’s capital has had a mixed history. Sacramento has hosted a number of amateur, semi-pro, and professional soccer teams over the years; the most “famous” of which was probably the professional indoor soccer team, the Sacramento Knights. Despite its spotty history, however, I’ve always felt that professional soccer could work in Sacramento. Having played club soccer (teams that travel to compete in tournaments across the state) for years, I’ve long known about the strong community of soccer-savvy individuals that live in the greater Sacramento area. Like most families with the kind of expendable income required to fund their
vicarious children’s pursuit of sporting glory, these folks tended to be middle- to upper-middle class. When combined with the more stereotypical soccer mom’s as well as the large numbers of families that have settled in the Sacramento area from countries far more passionate about the sport of soccer than their adopted one, there always seemed to be enough of a market for a pro team to take hold…if it was done right.
Enter the Republic FC.
From the moment the team was announced, the Republic, led by president/founder Warren Smith (who also has ties to Sacramento’s minor league baseball team, the River Cats) have fostered a sense of community and purpose. Everything done on the field (hiring former U.S. Men’s National Team player Predrag “Preki” Radosavlijevic, forming affiliations with the San Jose Earthquakes and Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer (MLS), building a temporary, soccer-specific stadium at Cal Expo) and off it (special events, community outreach, partnering with the supporter’s group Tower Bridge Battalion) has been focused on one clear goal: building a professional soccer team in Sacramento that will last.
Whether or not the Republic will succeed or follow in the footsteps of its predecessors remains to be seen. Many will argue that the Republic’s long-term success will hinge on whether or not it can break into the MLS. This is a complex process that generally requires three main ingredients: deep pocketed owners, a strong fan base, and a soccer-specific stadium. Based on a very small sample size, Sacramento appears to at least have a fan base that is ready to support a local soccer team. The Republic home opener drew over 20,000 fans in a sellout game at Hughes Stadium. Their following game drew over 17,000 fans, which was more than three of the seven MLS matches that occurred on that same day (per the Sacramento Bee).
The numbers–of fans and those preceded by dollar signs–will eventually decide if Sacramento gets to play in the MLS sandbox, but that’s for the executives of the Republic and the MLS to worry about. Personally, I’m just excited to have a local team in a sport I love. As someone who wakes up early on the weekends to catch EPL matches, it’s thrilling to have something resembling a “true,” professional soccer atmosphere in my own backyard. It’s also about civic pride. Sacramento is a great city with the reputation for being a one-trick sports town (i.e., the Kings), but the truth of the matter is that we have the capacity to support multiple sports franchises. And as any long-time Kings fan will surely attest, we Sacramentans will support our teams through thick and thin.*
So I would encourage everyone, whether you avidly love soccer or are lukewarm towards the beautiful game (like Eric), to get out and support the Republic FC. You’ll be treating yourself to a fun experience, but more importantly, helping to ensure that a professional sports team and community partner gains traction in our great city. As members of the Tower Bridge Battalion would say (sing), “Glory, glory Sacramento!”
*Unless the owners decide to throw mud in our face. ::cough::the Maloofs::cough::