Round 1 of USL Playoffs: Sacramento Republic FC v. New Mexico United Preview
Off the heels of an emphatic regular season finale win, the Sacramento Republic FC now looks to the USL playoffs, opening their voyage at home against New Mexico United. This is the first time since 2018 the Quails will start the postseason at Heart Health Park, clinching the fourth seed in the final match of the regular season.
And what a performance it was to end the preliminary season.
Losers of their last four matches, the Republic sat fourth with New Mexico two points behind them in the standings heading into match-week 34. Facing off against the number two team in the Western Conference, San Diego Loyal SC, the Republic took control of the moment from start to finish, ending the night with a 4-0 win, clinching home-field advantage. They now open the postseason at home, instead of traveling to New Mexico this weekend.
Goal & Celebration – 10/10 👏 @MattLaGrassa's golazo vs SD has been voted the USL Championship Goal of the Week for Week 32. 🔥
— x – Republic FC (@SacRepublicFC) October 20, 2022
“It’s massive,” head coach Mark Briggs told the media. “We wanted to get a home game, and obviously we have now. So now hopefully we can pack the stadium, and we can fill out the stadium. And the fans can get behind our team and can create another memorable evening.”
The Republic will need all the help they can get, facing a tough New Mexico United side in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Their opponents also finished the regular season on a positive note, going unbeaten in their last five matches including a 2-0 victory over Colorado Springs to end the year. Led by a group of balanced teammates, the Black and Yellow have only lost nine matches all season, the second-fewest in the Western Conference. The real danger threat up front is midfielder Justin Portillo and winger Neco Brett, combining for 15 goals and seven assists in 2o22. Sacramento will need to be worried about these two’s connectivity, able to link up with others or create on their own at any moment.
“They’re very good team. They’ve got a number of good players, talented players,” Briggs said Thursday after training. “They’re going to be a difficult opponent to break down and they’ve got dangerous pace players that can hurt us. So we’ve just got to make sure we’re focused we understand their strengths, and we understand how we can exploit their weaknesses.”
Leading the way on the Republic side is team captain Rodrigo López, scoring or assisting 15 goals in the regular season. “RoRo” has been the biggest key to the Quails’s attack all season, showing an ability to handle crucial situations through the regular season and U.S. Open Cup run to the final.
Maalique Foster has been a revelation for Sacramento in his second season with the club, scoring seven goals and one assist in 24 matches played. Arguably the fastest guy on the pitch every week, if the Jamaican can get behind the opposition Saturday night, he’s sure to create problems for the visitors.
“I think the guys from day one had been exceptional. Their attitude, their application to what we’re trying to achieve from day one has been second to none. And I think they’ve achieved a lot more than anyone would have anticipated [this season],” Briggs stated.
Of course, the biggest advantage for the Quails is playing at Heart Health Park, in front of one of the rowdiest crowds in the USL Championship. The coaching staff and players alike will need the support of Sacramento if they are to advance to the conference semifinals next week.
— Rodrigo Lopez (@Lopez_Roro) October 20, 2022
“I think with our group, they rise to the occasion when we’ve got our fans behind us. When we’ve got that extra impetus that the energy of the crowd gives us. So I think if we can get the people there, get them as rowdy as they can…And they treat it like they treated every Open Cup game, because the atmosphere for those games were amazing. And hopefully we can create that again on Saturday,” the head coach said.