SACRAMENTO — End-to-end action, great saves, a colorful State Fair backdrop — the only thing missing from Sacramento Republic FC’s match-up with first-place Orlando City Soccer Club was goals as the teams fought to a 0-0 draw in front of a sellout crowd of 8,000 at Bonney Field.
It was also a game of firsts for both sides as undefeated Orlando (14-0-4), which is set to enter Major League Soccer in 2015, had yet to be shut out all season, while Sacramento (10-6-3) had yet to drop points in four games at Bonney.
“I’m actually really glad with the result because I thought on the night we were the better team,” said Republic FC head coach Preki. “We did the right things but in the final part of the field we lacked a little bit of quality, a little of the final pass.”
The match started out at a frenetic pace with both teams finding space on the wide pitch and sending numbers forward into the opposing half.
The open play nearly resulted in a goal in stoppage time in the first half when Octavio Guzman won the ball at the top of Sacramento’s 18-yard box.
Despite being dragged from behind by Kevin Molino, the third-leading goal scorer in the league, the Chico State alumnus shook off the challenge, dribbled the ball to midfield and found Davis-native Adam Jahn, who played a one-touch ball to left back Jack Avesyan.
Streaking down the left side, Avesyan found Jahn in the box who squared the ball to Sac State alumnus Max Alvarez.
Alvarez’s left-footed strike was deflected and heading into the bottom corner, but seemingly out of nowhere, Lions goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo corralled the shot to preserve the scoreless half.
Eight minutes after the break, it was Sacramento netminder Jake Gleeson who was called into action as a cross found Orlando forward Dennis Chin wide open from 6 yards out.
Chin headed the ball down and with pace, but like a cat — a 6-foot-5 cat — Gleeson quickly dove to his right and parried away the ball with his right hand in the last dangerous attempt of the game.
“I’m so proud of our guys. It was the third game in six days,” Preki said. “We traveled East Coast, West Coast. They fought their hearts out. I can only take my hat off to our guys. They showed a lot of heart, a lot of courage against the No. 1 team in the league, the team that’s going to MLS.
“I’m just disappointed things didn’t go our way tonight.”
Things could have been worse than a draw for the Republic as Alvarez was sent off in the 79th minute for throwing an elbow off the ball, forcing Sacramento to play the final 11 minutes of the game a man down.
With the sun set and the lights from the fair glowing in the background, the referee blew his final whistle in what was probably a fair result given the relatively even play.
Note: While Orlando is headed to MLS next year, only four of the players on the current squad have signed MLS contracts. All four of those players started for City.
— Reach Evan Ream at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam