SACRAMENTO — On the way to Bonney Field Thursday night, Sacramento Republic FC defender Emrah Klimenta made a bold prediction to fellow Republic player Ivan Mirković: the first-year player told his roommate that he was going to score.
Klimenta, who was one of two players to make the roster after an open tryout, had never scored a USL PRO goal previously. But there he was in the 13th minute, rising highest on a Rodrigo Lopez corner kick to head the ball into the back of the net for the only goal of the game against Arizona United SC in front of a sellout crowd of 8,000.
“Oh man, you can’t describe it,” the 23-year-old said after the game with an ear-to-ear grin. “(It was the) right place at the right time. I just stuck my head out there and redirected it into the goal and it felt great. And for that to be the game-winner, it felt even better.”
After the early goal though, the narrative of the match changed from an open, attacking contest, to a bitter battle featuring 25 fouls and a red card for each side.
Though Sacramento (8-4-2) had the better of the play going forward, outshooting Arizona, 10-2, in the first half, it couldn’t put away any of several quality chances.
Even when United defender Widner Saint-Cyr was ejected for his second yellow card of the match in the 58th minute, the Republic couldn’t pounce on their numerical advantage — which was nullified 16 minutes later when forward Chad Bartlomé was shown a straight red card for serious foul play on a sliding tackle in the center of the park.
“It’s frustrating because the game should have been three, four to zero for us,” said Republic FC head coach Preki. “We get a red card. It’s just an unbelievable decision because when you see the replay, our guy plays the ball. The referee just decides to give a red card.”
Preki added: “Right now we’re getting red cards for nothing. It’s disappointing. Every game we’re struggling with injuries, red cards out of nothing. We’re clearly the better team, we clearly had more possession, more chances. At the end of the day, we’re happy with taking the three points, but I thought the game should have been closed in the first half. I thought the final play in the final third should have been sharper.”
Sacramento was nearly rewarded in the 88th minute, when a confident Klimenta made a strong run up the left side, cut onto his right foot, and blasted a shot from 18-yards that goalkeeper Evan Newton did well to save for Arizona (4-7-3).
“I just saw acres of space. I said, you know what, I have the license to go forward,” Klimenta said about the play. “Coach Preki lets the fullbacks go up and I just saw the chance, took it, unfortunately didn’t score, should have passed it, but I was so exhausted, I was just looking at the goal, trying to score another one to ease it for the rest of my teammates. In the end, a win is a win. 1-0, 3-0, it doesn’t matter.”
Notes: There was a scary moment late in the game when Sacramento goalkeeper Jake Gleeson — who celebrated his birthday Thursday — collided with a United player, leading to profuse bleeding from his head that required him to be substituted out and given postgame stitches. … Republic FC relied heavily on players loaned from its two MLS affiliates, Portland Timbers FC and San Jose Earthquakes. In the starting lineup were Alvas Powell and Gleeson of the Timbers as well as Earthquakes players Tommy Thompson and Adam Jahn, from El Macero. Portland loanee George Fochive was a second half substitute.
— Reach Evan Ream at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam