On Friday, July 25, I had the privilege to attend the second annual Sacramento Soccer Day. It was my second Sacramento Soccer Day, too, having also attended last year’s match at Raley Field in which Norwich City F.C. of the English Premier League beat Dorados de Sinaloa from Mexico’s Liga Ascenso (the country’s second-tier league) 3-0. This year, it was West Bromwich Albion of the EPL taking on the Sacramento Republic FC of the United Soccer Leagues’ Professional Division (the country’s third-tier league). The setting was Republic FC’s home turf, Bonney Field—located inside Cal Expo—with the California State Fair’s midway rides spinning around and lighting up in the picturesque background.
The game started out scorching—and I don’t mean the play on the field. Spectators on the west side of the stadium (sections 101 through 110) had full shade, but the east side (sections 111 through 120; I was in Section 112) got the brunt of the setting sun on a 100-degree day. Note to future Republic FC spectators: Purchase tickets in sections 101 through 110 if it’s a hot day. Thankfully, things got more comfortable when the sun set behind the stands and I purchased a cold (but expensive!) 24-ounce beer.
Anyway, let’s cut to the beautiful game—at least in theory. Things started out well for the Republic, with a few shots on goal that forced West Brom’s goalkeeper into two saves. But the Baggies, as they’re known by fans, used physical strength and technical superiority to quickly gain control of the game, with Victor Anichebe assisting on a Jaido Berahino goal, and then Berahino assisting on a Youssouf Mulumbu header to end the half at 2-0. West Brom’s strong Nigerian striker Anichebe (pictured above) continued to shine in the second half when he struck a long-range shot from 25 yards out to make the score 3-0. The Republic finally got one back when J.J. Koval—on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer for the game—scored in the 73rd minute. The match ended 3-1.
If it’s any consolation, the Republic fans at least got to poke fun at West Brom with chants reminding them that Norwich City F.C.—which participated in the previous Sacramento Soccer Day—was relegated to the Football League Championship, England’s second tier after finishing third-to-last in the EPL this summer. Their energetic drumming and cheering lasted throughout the game.
From a neutral perspective, it’s a huge win for the Republic to even have scored against a Premier League team. Besides, it’s always a good training exercise for any team to play against top-flight opposition, no matter how lopsided the score. Indeed, the benefits showed up in the Republic’s following USL Pro league match in which they dominated the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 5-0 on Sunday, July 27—while simultaneously breaking the USL Pro attendance record. Things are looking bright (and hot) for the Republic in the next few months.