Sac Republic strives to become part of MLS

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In 2014, Sacramento Republic Football Club won the United Soccer League-PRO championship, establishing itself as a fast-growing soccer franchise in the country.

Currently, Sac Republic is trying to become a new Major League Soccer expansion team, creating a campaign titled “Built For MLS.”

Owners of multiple professional teams in Northern California have bought into the campaign – stating last January that Jed York, the owner of the San Francisco 49ers, and Vivek Ranadive, owner of the Sacramento Kings, have invested into the club and plan to get the team into MLS.

President of Sac Republic FC, Warren Smith, is excited about the additions of York and Ranadive to the ownership group.

“You (get) a lot of experience, not just capital, that both organizations bring,” Smith said. “Both have had success in building or are building high quality facilities that we are ultimately trying to accomplish in Sacramento.”

MLS have said they plan to expand the league from the current 20 teams to 24 teams by the end of the decade. Two of those spots have been filled by a second Los Angeles team and Atlanta.

The other cities competing with Sacramento for the two remaining spots in MLS are San Antonio, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and St. Louis – all trying to persuade the MLS they are the best destinations for a new team.

People don’t expect a decision by the MLS until June as they weigh their options with the remaining teams.

“Built for MLS” is a fairly simple campaign that Sac Republic and their investors continue to push – stating that the growing soccer community in the Greater Sacramento area would be supportive of the team, explaining the details of a new downtown stadium and an ownership group that will be active in building a winning team.

Smith feels adding York and Ranadive to the ownership group brings experience and shows that Sacramento is in fact “Built For MLS.”

In its first year as a professional soccer team, Sac Republic had an average attendance of about 11,000 people and played their first game of the season in front of 20,000 people – breaking numerous attendance records while doing so. Currently, the team plays at Bonney Field at Cal Expo and is expanding its stadium to cater larger crowds.

About 8,000 season tickets have been sold for the 2015 season, confirming Sac Republic’s local support that would grow if the team is chosen to become a MLS franchise.

Sac Republic has a plan in place with Downtown Railyard Venture, LLC to buy space at the downtown rail yards for its proposed location for their new stadium.

The building of a 20,000 seat MLS stadium in downtown will help the local businesses and city grow and give the city another option of entertainment.

This stadium proposal, according to Sac Republic’s website, will give Sacramento “added character” that will “revitalize underserved areas of (the) city while fostering the community economically and culturally.”

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson has called this mission of reinvigorating Sacramento  “Sac 3.0,” partnering with Vivek Ranadive and bringing a new 21st century approach to the city.

Smith says having an MLS team in Sacramento will show the competitiveness Mayor Johnson visualizes with Sac 3.0 – making “Sacramento a better place to live, work, and play.”

Senior Nick Wohlman, a self-described Sac Republic fan, thinks the ownership changes and plans for a new stadium are positive moves by the team.

“The more professional sports team we can bring here, the better,” Wohlman said. “It’d obviously bring a lot of economic advantages here (…) and they’d increase their support.”

Soccer itself has seen a huge increase in the country, with the growth of the popular video game FIFA and during the United States men and women national team’s World Cup runs in the past couple of summers.

“(Having an MLS team in the area) would increase the support for soccer,” Wohlman said.

Currently, Sac Republic serves as a stepping stone into professional soccer, taking in and training young, up-and-coming players for the San Jose Earthquakes and Portland Timbers.

One of those players is current San Jose Earthquakes forward and Granite Bay High School alum Tommy Thompson. Thompson signed a contract with San Jose but played in a few games for Sac Republic to tone his skills to a professional level.

Senior Tatum Thompson, younger sister of Tommy and currently on the girls’ soccer team at GBHS, says watching Tommy play for Sac Republic was fun and exciting to see him play close to home.

Thompson also likes the moves made by Sac Republic for the community and the sport itself.

“It definitely gets the community more involved in soccer and a lot more support for it,” Thompson said.

According to Tatum Thompson, her brother Tommy enjoyed his time with Sac Republic and still watches their games and supports his former teammates.

Although MLS plans to expand to 24 teams, it’s questioned if that’s a good idea for the league or how successful these new teams will be.

Sac Republic would have to make a fast transition from playing semi-professional 3rd division soccer to the top division of professional soccer in the country.

Smith thinks it would be a smooth transition however.

“We have the right coach …, Sacramento is a hotbed of talent … and we’re rolling out the academy program in a couple weeks and building a player development pyramid.

“The last thing is to make sure we build a quality organization with the right culture.”

The San Jose Earthquakes, which recently defeated Sac Republic 1-0 in a friendly preseason match, finished in last place in the 2014 MLS western conference – showing Sac Republic’s lack of talent against one of the worst teams in MLS.

Sac Republic would have to sign some better players and improve their team to survive in MLS, but with this new ownership group that shows the investment needed to be put into the team, that isn’t a farfetched idea.

The addition of a development program and academy team allows Sac Republic to build their team from the roots of the area.

The only thing stopping Sac Republic from growing into a successful professional team is MLS, choosing not to include Sac Republic in the league.

If Sac Republic doesn’t get the bid for a new MLS team, the once promising investment group will have to wait to prove that Sacramento is “Built For MLS.”

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