SACRAMENTO — While Sacramento Republic FC has received important contributions from multiple players in its wildly successful inaugural USL PRO season, no star has shone as brightly as Rodrigo Lopez.
The diminutive attacking midfielder scored two goals Wednesday night — his eighth and ninth of the season — to propel the Republic to their sixth consecutive win, 3-1 over Charleston in front of a sellout crowd of 8,000 at Bonney Field.
Sacramento (16-6-3) is 7-0-1 in its past eight games. The visiting Battery fell to 9-9-8.
Lopez’s goals, both highlight reel strikes, along with his league-leading eight assists to match his jersey number, put the former Portland Timber into the conversation for the league’s MVP award as Republic FC approaches the playoffs.
“It’s tough. I set myself some goals at the beginning of the season and that was just to help the team out and to help the team be successful,” Lopez said when asked about possibly winning the MVP award. “Obviously, the hard work that I put into the offseason and the preseason helped me out a lot. I couldn’t do it without the help of my teammates, but most importantly we’re in second place.”
“The team is doing well,” Lopez added. “We’re clicking at the right time and peaking well. I’m just excited for what we’re doing this season for this city.”
Lopez put the home side ahead just 12 minutes into the game after some nice interplay from Davis native Adam Jahn and former Chico State star Octavio Guzman resulted in a poor headed clearance from a Battery defender.
The clearance fell directly to Lopez who one-touch volleyed a laser into the corner of the net to set a raucous crowd on fire.
After some poor Republic marking on a set piece allowed the South Carolina side to equalize just four minutes later, Lopez was back to his usual tricks.
Picking up the ball near the center circle, the midfielder slalomed through the Battery defense and fired a 25-yard shot that was so powerful the Charleston goalkeeper didn’t even move as the ball rifled into the back corner of the net.
“(Sacramento coach) Preki had told us that there was going to be a lot of space behind their midfield and to find gaps in between them to go at the defenders,” Lopez said. “I was able to get a ball behind their midfield and go at their defenders. Our forwards made good runs. I just felt like they were tracking (the forwards) so they gave me some space to hit the ball.
“I hit it, and it went in.”
Despite some improved play from the Battery in the second half, Portland Timbers loanee Steven Evans ended any hope of a Charleston comeback when he coolly slotted home a Dakota Collins cross that was cleverly dummied in the box by Jahn.
Evans’ first USL PRO goal of the season confirmed the Republic’s 3-1 win.
Notes: Sacramento team captain Justin Braun (fractured toe) and leading goal scorer Tommy Stewart (hamstring) both missed Wednesday’s match. Team officials said that neither injury was serious and that both likely would have played if it were a playoff game. … Speaking of the postseason, the Republic FC’s Sept. 13 playoff match at Bonney Field was announced as a sellout on Tuesday, just 45 minutes after tickets became available.
— Reach Evan Ream at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam