Sacramento Republic FC v. Birmingham Legion FC Preview
Off the heels of a dramatic comeback that ended in a draw last weekend, Sacramento Republic FC welcomes a formidable Eastern Conference foe in Birmingham Legion FC to Heart Health Park Saturday night.
The Quails have had a tough go of things in July, losing their first match, 3-0, to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, and then drawing with Oakland Roots SC, 3-3, at home last Saturday. After a perfect 5-0 record in the month of June, the team has acknowledged the lack of consistency over the last few weeks, partially attributing it to the lack of clinical ability in the final third.
“I feel like we need to improve on finishing chances. I think we had them (Oakland) at 1-0 and we still had two chances to put them away. I think we need to be a little more clinical,” Rodrigo Lopez said post-match Saturday.
“I think sometimes in front of goal you go through spells where sometimes you’re finishing everything and sometimes you feel like you should be creating or getting more out of your chances.” midfielder Matt LaGrassa said after Thursday’s training session. “We’ve had our ups and downs in front of goal this year but I have full faith in the guys we have.”
Luis Felipe’s equalizer against Oakland has been voted the USL Championship Goal of the Week. 🌟
— Republic FC (@SacRepublicFC) July 15, 2022
After a month of three clean sheets in five matches, the Republic have conceded three goals in consecutive contests for the first time this season. something the team will need to fix if they want to make a deep run in the USL playoffs.
“We scored three goals on Saturday night but we gave up three,” head coach Mark Briggs said. “Saturday, we didn’t have the defensive killer edge and we did have the attacking kill edge. It’s about making sure we’re ruthless and we have that killer edge as a team, as a group.”
The Quails will need that ruthlessness this weekend as they face the sixth-best team in the eastern conference, Birmingham Legion FC. Currently on a nice run of form after defeating Charleston Battery, 3-0, the Alabama club share similarities with Republic FC, starting off the year slow but picking up momentum as the season went along.
A well-organized team at heart, Briggs and his side are ready for a tightly-contested match Saturday.
“They’re a very good team. They’re very organized, well coached and a team that we can’t take lightly. The team, we have to fully understand how we can exploit and fully understand their strengths and what we what we don’t want to give them on Saturday night,” Briggs said.
“They’re a good team on the counter attack and they have a lot of quick players, a lot of technically good players. So that’s something that we need to be aware of,” midfielder Nick Ross stated. “So we just need to keep the ball, be sort of composed on the ball, and I think our quality will shine through.”
And some quality may be returning to the pitch Saturday after starting center-back Conor Donovan progressed through training relatively good this week after missing the Oakland match due to a groin injury. A huge boost for the Republic to have their starting back three intact once more.
“He went through training today. I’ll find out if he got through without any scares. He seemed to feel okay and there was no issues. So that’s a positive obviously for our group and we’ve missed Connor…he brings a lot of leadership, a lot of quality on the ball, lot of quality without the ball. So great to get him through the session,” Briggs stated.
Aside from the recent run of form, the Quails have managed to stay undefeated at home in 2022, something the club had set out to accomplish at the start of the year. Halfway through the year, the job isn’t done yet but the Republic’s success should be attributed to their stellar home record.
“I think every team wants to be undefeated at home. If you can win your home games, you’ve got huge chance of staying up high in the league. And once you go on the run, and we realize that we can win a lot of games at home, we have the funds behind us, which makes big difference, and I think once we realized that, we want to keep the run going as much as possible,” Ross said.
A big reason for the club’s home record is thanks to the coaching staff. Particularly Mark Briggs, who earned his first Coach of the Month honors from the USL Championship this week after being perfect in June with two of the three shutouts victories coming at home.
Extremely honored, however, this is a team sport. I would never receive this honor without my hard working staff and the incredible group of players I have. Thankful beyond words. A lot more work to do though! https://t.co/46fErD7DOh
— Mark Briggs (@markbriggs6) July 14, 2022
“It’s nice recognition,” Briggs said. “Obviously, it’s the staff, it’s the players, it’s the whole collective that wins that award. So it’s nice to get recognition but I’m really pleased for the guys that put the work in behind the scenes and don’t get the attention too much. That’s what it’s all about. We’re a family and we’re a team and getting an accolade for that is for everyone here.”
The Englishman previously won USL Coach of the Year honors in 2017 after leading Real Monarchs SLC to the 2017 Regular Season Championship title.
Saturday’s match is a special one for the Sacramento community as the California State Fair opens up on Friday, July 15 — the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020 — allowing fans the unique opportunity to take in both the match and the best that The Golden State has to offer.
“I used to go to the state fair as a kid,” LaGrassa, an Elk Grove native, exclaimed with a smile. “So it’s always fun. Like I said, seeing the Ferris wheel in the back and remembering all those memories…So it’s a special time of year. It’s something cool that happens in this city and I think a lot of people in the area get excited about it.”
And with more fans on the Cal Expo grounds, the club hopes more people will come out to support the Quails, especially with the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup coming up.
“We just have to continue doing what we do and winning games, doing well in the Open Cup. That gives exposure, that gives recognition and then the [people] that don’t know about Sacramento, they see it and they’re like, ‘oh, maybe we’ll come out’ and then they come out and they like it, they enjoy it and they come back. So we’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing, hope the fair this weekend will even get a few more people in the stands. But we can’t worry about that. We got to worry about what we do on the field. And then if we do what’s right on the field, those fans will come,” Briggs explained.
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. PST from Heart Health Park and will be broadcast live on FOX40, Antenna TV 40.2, FOX40.com and the FOX 40 App, and streaming live on ESPN+.