A friendly between Republic FC and host UC Davis turned chaotic on Saturday when Republic FC coach Preki pulled his team off the field in the 66th minute and forfeited a match his club was leading 1-0.
Preki’s decision came after Republic FC defender James Kiffe was ejected for a hard tackle that took out the leg of Aggies freshman Noah Wilson in a match that had grown physical and chippy.
Wilson was left sprawled on the ground in pain, and players for both sides pushed and jawed after referee Matthew Buckman quickly pulled out a red card.
Fans were angry and shocked at sold-out Aggie Soccer Field as Preki waved his players off the field while walking quickly down the sideline past the UCD bench, then exited the stadium. Police were called in as a precautionary measure.
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UCD coach Dwayne Shaffer said it was the first time in his 30 years of coaching that an opposing team had walked off the field.
“What I saw was a great community event for us and for the Republic,” Shaffer said. “I saw a fun game for everybody to be a part of. I was enjoying the game.”
Preki said the game was getting too physical and that he had expressed his concerns even before the game began.
“I just thought the game got out of control, and it was time for us to walk off,” Preki said. “We can’t afford any injuries at the moment, and it was on the verge of bigger incidents. ... I think there were a lot of bad tackles. ... We came here to play the game in the right way. We are pros, and this is our livelihood.”
Officials issued four yellow cards to UCD and two to Republic FC before Kiffe was red-carded.
Shaffer said the match wasn’t extraordinarily physical.
“Not at all,” he said. “It’s soccer. I thought it was going both ways and it was a good battle.”
Wilson was along the sideline, trying to make a turn and pass when Kiffe collided with him.
“All of sudden, I saw him coming and tried to jump out of the tackle, and he just came and cleared me out,” said Wilson, who was limping noticeably after the game and had his right leg wrapped in ice.
Yet even Shaffer was surprised Kiffe received a red card.
“I just saw a good, hard tackle,” Shaffer said.
Preki also defended Kiffe.
“It was a 100 percent clean tackle; I had a perfect view,” he said.
Kiffe said he got all ball on the tackle and, “I went through him after.”
“I didn’t think it was a red card,” he said. “I honestly didn’t even think it was a foul. But I understand the ref wanting to do something about it because the game was getting out of hand. And it was going to get worse and worse. Ro Ro (Rodrigo Lopez) got clipped on a high tackle right before. ... It was kind of surprising a red didn’t get thrown earlier.”
Last year, UC Davis upset Republic FC 1-0 in a highly emotional game, and the Aggies are considered one of the top defensive teams in college soccer.
But it looked like it was going to be a different game when new signee Gabe Gonzalez put Republic FC up 1-0 with an upper-corner rocket from a Lopez assist in the eighth minute as Sacramento dominated play early.
But UCD seemed to gain confidence as the game wore on, and play got a lot more physical as a number of players went down on tackles. The match got an additional spark at halftime when Republic FC assistant coach Adam Smith confronted a UCD player and was escorted off the field by the referee, Buckman.
“One of their players started yelling at me,” Preki said. “I don’t even know (who), to be honest. I try not to speak with the opposition – the coaches and players. I think maybe my staff tried to protect me and they felt it was unnecessary for them to talk to us. It happened. It’s behind us; everyone is safe, so we feel good about it.”
Republic FC starters Max Alvarez (groin), Nemanja Vukovic (hernia) and Thomas Stewart (foot surgery), all key players last season, are out with injuries, and Republic FC begins the defense of its USL championship on Saturday at the Seattle Sounders FC 2.
Republic FC President Warren Smith said what happened was disappointing but supported Preki.
“It’s just unfortunate; it is what it is,” Smith said. “It’s the coach’s decision if he thinks the players are going to be hurt. He has the right, and we’ll support it.”
Despite what happened, Shaffer hopes the match can still be an annual affair. He said with 12 freshmen seeing action Saturday, it was a great learning experience for his players
“I don’t know what (Republic FC’s) thoughts are, if they are going to play college programs or not,” Shaffer said. “I’d love to play them again. It’s great for our community. It’s great for them. They get to come into another community and show their product and sell out a facility.”
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