Sacramento Republic Youth Academy Leading The Way in MLS Next Cup
Sacramento Republic FC may not be an MLS organization, but don’t let that fool you, this club can compete with the rest of them.
But they’re not the only ones turning heads. Take a look at the Sacramento Republic FC youth academy. The U15 team recently advanced to the semifinals of the prestigious MLS Next Cup Tuesday, defeating the New York Red Bulls, 3-0, in Frisco, Texas.
A deep run in the tournament isn’t a surprise to most in the program, reaching the semifinal round last year with two different squads. But what is surprising is they are the only non-MLS academy left in this year’s tournament, mirroring the senior side’s progression to the semifinals in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
And like the senior side, the Sacramento Republic FC youth academy is built on one foundation: Culture.
“I think what makes our academy special is the culture,” academy director Eder Quintanilla said. “The way we train, the way we play, the way we act, it’s connected with the club vision and values. That makes us connected with the club, with a city, and have the same purpose. We try to use those values in training, represent those values in everything we do and that creates a special atmosphere that everyone is connected and everyone shares the same objectives.”
With every strong culture comes a slew of great talent and the Republic has that, continuing to find local products who show bright futures in professional soccer. One of those products, Woodland native Omar Marquez, was in the spotlight Tuesday after scoring all three goals in the quarterfinals, solely leading his side into the next round. But at the end of the day, Marquez was just happy to help his team, and his club, move on in the tournament.
“The three goals made me feel happy because at the end of the day, I saw my teammates very happy,” Marquez said. “So I felt really happy that I can help the club and the team advance to the semifinals, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and the coaches.”
A kid from humble roots, Marquez first started playing soccer at the age of four, getting “hooked” after learning the sport from his dad. While his family can’t be at every match, Marquez’s mother is in Frisco cheering on her baby boy, her smile beaming every time the ball hit the back of the net Tuesday.
Marquez sees those same family values and ideologies in the youth academy, being hoisted up in celebration by his teammates after his stunning performance in the quarterfinals. Those family values and culture are what makes this team so special, providing a bond that goes deeper than 90 minutes on the pitch.
“The thing that’s special is we all have a special connection. And we’ve been with each other since day one and we’re always here for each other at the end of the day, win or lose,” Marquez stated.
That mindset has spread throughout the organization as the U17s and U19s, who were eliminated earlier in the cup, stayed to cheer on their fellow academy players until the final whistle.
According to Quintanilla, that support and admiration come from something bigger than just skills and talent. It comes from the values they’re instilling at an early age.
“They need to have a winning mentality and they need to have that indomitable spirit that the club has,” Quintanilla said. “They need to be good people…they need to be respectful for each other and try to represent that unified community that is known as another value of the club. Then, obviously, soccer skills are important but I think the character and mentality and the mindset is what makes the difference between our players and other players from other clubs.”
But hard work alone won’t get you one step away from a cup final as the talent on this U15 side has shined through, particularly with Marquez, someone the coaches on both the academy and the senior level, are quite fond of.
“Omar is one of the most talented players I ever coached. And his strongest part is his character mentality,” Quintanilla said. “He is a competitor, he’s a fighter…And so, if he has that and with his skills and how young he is, and what he’s doing, I think he has a great, great future.”
“It’s fantastic. I’ve said since I’ve been here, the talent in this area and the hard work that Eder and Ivan [Mirkovic] and Brian [Willey] and all the other guys that work in the academy do. And I think you see in these moments when the club gets to compete against some of the best academies in the country,” Republic head coach Mark Briggs said. “And then to have one of our players who we have real high hopes for, Omar, score a hat-trick is fantastic for the club and also shows what we have coming through the pipeline.”
But even with all the praise and accolades, the kid from Yolo County is just excited for his future with the club, grateful to represent his hometown club.
“My future with this club is very bright. I want to have a future with this, maybe become professional with the team at one point and to see where this club takes me,” Marquez said.
The U15s take on Real Salt Lake, who they beat, 5-1, in February, in the semifinals of the MLS Next Cup Thursday at 5 p.m. PST.