Sacramento Republic FC goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek poses for a selfie with fans at Thursday's downtown block party welcoming the MLS representatives and commissioner Don Garber. Also, Republic FC players Tommy Stewart, Mackenzie Pridham and Cameron Iwasa fire up the fans at Built for MLS. Bill Paterson The Sacramento Bee
Sacramento Republic FC goalkeeper Dominik Jakubek poses for a selfie with fans at Thursday's downtown block party welcoming the MLS representatives and commissioner Don Garber. Also, Republic FC players Tommy Stewart, Mackenzie Pridham and Cameron Iwasa fire up the fans at Built for MLS. Bill Paterson The Sacramento Bee

Soccer

Republic FC players keep MLS hoopla in perspective

By Bill Paterson

bpaterson@sacbee.com

April 14, 2016 05:26 PM

Athletes are notorious for living in the moment. The focus is on the next play, the next practice, the next game.

But second-year Republic FC forward Cameron Iwasa admits occasionally thinking about what it might be like to play in Major League Soccer – and how sweet it would be as a member of his hometown team.

“Somewhat selfishly, I would like to be in the MLS at some point, and if it’s with this club, that would be a dream come true,” said the former Jesuit High School standout. “But it’s very, very far in the back of my mind at this point. We’re very focused on getting it done in the USL this season. This is what is in the forefront.”

Somewhat selfishly, I would like to be in the MLS at some point, and if it’s with this club, that would be a dream come true. But it’s very, very far in the back of my mind at this point. We’re very focused on getting it done in the USL this season. This is what is in the forefront.

Republic FC forward Cameron Iwasa, a former Jesuit High School standout

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If Republic FC’s players had some thoughts of MLS dancing in their heads on Thursday afternoon, it was understandable. They were part of the festivities as the city of Sacramento, Republic FC and a couple of thousand fans welcomed Commissioner Don Garber during a downtown block party to show how much they want to be a part of America’s top soccer league. Garber was on hand to see the progress the ambitious club is making in a bid to land one of the league’s latest four expansion spots.

“It was an amazing opportunity to show the very top guy what it’s like here,” said midfielder Danny Barrera. “Sacramento is like no other place where I’ve played soccer. It’s ready for MLS, and I think the commissioner will see that it’s a no-brainer.”

While the players are enthusiastic about Republic FC’s MLS push, they realize there are no guarantees that they will complete that journey with the third-year franchise. If Republic FC is granted entry into the league this year, it probably won’t play its first MLS match until 2020.

Four years can be a career for most players toiling in lower-pay, high-turnover, minor-league soccer. Republic FC already has undergone massive player turnover since it won the 2014 USL title in its inaugural season.

Orlando City SC was the premier team in the USL when Sacramento joined the league in 2014. When Orlando joined MLS in 2015, most of the club’s players were left behind to continue playing in the USL or North American Soccer League.

“That’s why as a soccer player you can only focus on your current job and your next game,” Barrera said. “You just never know.”

Barrera, 26, was a youth phenom growing up in Southern California. He played with the U.S. National U-17 and U-18 teams and was a Parade Magazine high school All-American. He had a brilliant college career at UC Santa Barbara. But Republic FC is his fifth team in his five-year professional career that also has included trips to Serbia and England.

He has not played higher than second-tier pro soccer in the United States, even though he wowed Newcastle United FC and Sunderland AFC coaches when Republic FC played friendlies against the two English Premier League sides last summer at Bonney Field.

“Of course I want to play at the highest level, and if it happens in Sacramento that would be great,” Barrera said. “But my focus now is this team, this season and getting better and learning something each and every game.”

It was an amazing opportunity to show the very top guy what it’s like here. Sacramento is like no other place where I’ve played soccer. It’s ready for MLS, and I think the commissioner will see that it’s a no-brainer.

Republic FC midfielder Danny Barrera

With many of Republic FC’s past popular veterans gone, director of football Graham Smith and coach Paul Buckle brought in young MLS prospects such as defender Carlos Rodriguez, 19 , and forward Harry Williams, 20.

Republic FC also landed a couple of surprises. Former Stanford midfield star JJ Koval, a first-round pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, was released by the San Jose Earthquakes before the start of the season. The Columbus Crew didn’t have room on its roster for former Cal Poly midfielder Chase Minter, a second-round pick (21st overall) in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. Both are only 23.

Iwasa, 22, was a fourth-round pick of the Montreal Impact in 2015 after a stellar career at UC Irvine. But he was unable to land a contract with the top team or as a trialist (player not under contract) with the Earthquakes before signing with Republic FC.

So Iwasa already has a little taste of the big time. But could he wait four years to play MLS in Sacramento, even if Republic FC gets the expansion green light for 2020 before the end of the season?

“After the season, that’s when I will explore my options,” Iwasa said. “That’s the time I will sit down with my family and whoever I need to talk to about what’s going to be best for me. But right now, we’re all very focused on this season. Last year was a bit of a disappointment. The goal is to get back to the top like it was two years ago.”

Sacramento Republic FC forward Cameron Iwasa discusses the MLS buzz and commissioner Don Garber's visit to the city after practice on Wednesday, April 13, 2016, at Cosumnes River College. Iwasa and the players say Sacramento supports its soccer team and will be a success if Sacramento eventually joins the MLS. Bill PatersonThe Sacramento Bee

MLS Commissioner Don Garber says he expects Sacramento to land team in next round of expansion, likely in 2020. Ryan LillisThe Sacramento Bee

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP