After nearly 17 months of waiting since the expansion announcement, local soccer fans will finally be able to watch a professional game when Sacramento Republic FC plays its inaugural USL Pro home match against the Harrisburg City Islanders on Saturday at Hughes Stadium.
According to team officials, Republic FC expects to sell out the 20,231-capacity Hughes Stadium in the first of three games that they play there before they move to the 8,000-capacity Bonney Field on the Cal Expo Fairgrounds.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“For our staff and for our team, it’s very exciting to open our doors and show the people of Sacramento the experience we’re trying to create,” Republic FC owner Warren Smith told The Enterprise. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job in developing a plan and a business model that will eventually work and to see our first match at home for the group of people in Sacramento to enjoy the sport at a pretty high level, we think is pretty cool.”
The former River Cats executive vice president added: “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time and look forward to the outcome. Win or lose, we ultimately hope to create a special entertainment opportunity for the people of Sacramento and hopefully they’ll have a few smiles on their faces when they leave Hughes Stadium on Saturday night.”
Coming into the game with a 2-2-1 record, Sacramento exceeded all expectations on its season-opening road trip. Meanwhile, Harrisburg sits at the bottom of the table with a 0-1-2 record, with just one goal scored this season.
“We’re playing pretty well for a new team,” Smith said. “It would have been great to have those two losses as victories, but to go on the road for the first five matches and to have the record of (2-2-1) is actually pretty darn good.”
Playing in the third division of American soccer will put Republic FC players and staff through some tough situations such as the two-games-in-two-days road trip they had last weekend, which resulted in injuries to star players Justin Braun, Michael Fucito and Jake Gleeson.
The status for all three players is in question for Saturday, but one player who will be available is Adam Jahn, who is from Davis and played at Jesuit High.
As first reported by The Enterprise on Wednesday, Jahn has been sent on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes for an undisclosed amount of time thanks to an affiliation agreement that allows Sacramento to act as a pseudo minor league club for the Earthquakes.
“I think it’s going to be amazing,” Jahn said of the opener. “I mean, it’s perfect timing, the first home game for the team. I’m blessed enough to be a part of it. I’m really excited to play in front of a lot of old friends.”
Jahn, 23, was drafted by the Earthquakes last year after a standout career at Stanford. He scored four goals in 22 appearances, but fell out of favor after coach Frank Yallop and the Earthquakes mutually agreed to part ways and some of the veteran players returned from injury.
“I came in and got opportunities right off the bat,” Jahn said. “I think I made the most out of them. Eventually, the older guys, the veteran guys on the team, got healthy. They were very integral to the team. They stepped up and had a really strong second half of the year. I didn’t play as much, but I still kept learning from them. It was challenging.”
He has played just three minutes in MLS this year, receiving a red card against Colorado last weekend.
“It’s all about getting games, getting experience as a player and the only way to do that is to play full games, realistic games and not just train all the time,” Jahn added. “The Republic is just a few hours down the road (from San Jose) and a very competitive team. I’m really glad that it’s working out this way.”
As for Jahn’s dream scenario Saturday night:
“The team wins and we achieve the things that we’ve been working on in practice and get better as a team,” said the hulking striker. “It’s all about results. The fan support is there. They’re going to love it. We really want to deliver a win and kick off the soccer here in Sacramento on a good note. We’re very excited to be playing, and hopefully we can come out with a W.”
Sacramento Republic FC is coached by former U.S. international Predrag “Preki” Radosavljević, who played in the disastrous 1998 FIFA World Cup for the Americans, who finished last out of the 32 teams that participated.
Notable players for the Republic include Braun, the captain and former MLS player who Preki discovered, attacking midfielder Rodrigo Lopez and outside midfielder Max Alvarez, a Sacramento State alumnus.
“We don’t pretend to know everything,” Smith said. “We’re doing our best to create a special opportunity. We’re hopeful that people will give us feedback and we can learn from that feedback to make our product better for the next game.”
— Reach Evan Ream at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam