The Tower Bridge Battalion, the enthusiastic booster club for the Sacramento Republic FC soccer club, led the way as another big crowd showed up at Bonney Field for the team's first home match of the USL season on Saturday, April 2, 2016. Andy Furillo The Sacramento Bee
The Tower Bridge Battalion, the enthusiastic booster club for the Sacramento Republic FC soccer club, led the way as another big crowd showed up at Bonney Field for the team's first home match of the USL season on Saturday, April 2, 2016. Andy Furillo The Sacramento Bee

Andy Furillo

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Andy Furillo

Andy Furillo: Soccer party still rages in Sacramento

By Andy Furillo

afurillo@sacbee.com

April 03, 2016 05:42 PM

Three years into it, the soccer thing keeps getting more real around here.

You need a witness? Talk to any of the 11,569 fans at Bonney Field on Saturday night for Republic FC’s home opener. They brought the energy. If you thought the novelty of a third-division iteration of the beautiful game that we’re seeing in Sacramento had worn off, you’d be as wrong as Arizona United SC goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski was when he fluttered right as Cameron Iwasa kicked left in the 84th minute. The goal accounted for Sacramento’s 1-0 victory.

No, the soccer party has not died down in Sacramento, and may it never. The Tower Bridge Battalion pounded rhythm and sang song into and beyond stoppage time. You’ve got to figure the Battalion carried on into the wee hours, too. While a lot of Sacramento basketball fans root for another team in town to tank, the TBB after the game headed to the Tank House on J Street. The only draft they care about is the one in their hands, preferably from a local brewery.

It’s always about hanging out, having a good time, being social.

Republic FC fan Brian Galloway

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On April 14, the commissioner of Major League Soccer is coming to Sacramento on a fact-finding mission. Republic FC lead investor Kevin Nagle will regale the distinguished visitor, Don Garber, with the necessary facts on the financials. He’ll show him the railyard and its proximity to light rail and the many good places to eat and drink. If Garber is lucky, the Battalion will show up and beat its big bass drum for him.

Maybe the Battalion can pound it into his head to quicken Republic FC’s enrollment into MLS. It should have been done yesterday. We have waited for big-league soccer here since John Sutter pitched his fort. Let’s get this done, Don.

Next for Garber should be to work out the mechanism by which promotion and relegation will govern soccer throughout the United States. This item, however, will not be on the Sacramento agenda, nor that of MLS, inexplicably. It would only make the popularity of soccer explode in this country on a scale that would exceed even that of March Madness.

Even with MLS on the horizon, there appears to be no dissatisfaction in Sacramento with the USL on our back porch. Saturday’s record crowd in the slightly expanded Bonney crackled with intensity, as coach Paul Buckle’s team pressed the action from the beginning. He threw everybody to the front except Darrell Steinberg and Angelique Ashby. Finally, Iwasa came through, thanks to a run by outside back James Kiffe that left defenders strewn in the box like bowling pins before he dished inside to his forward, as the crowd unleashed a fury of decibels.

Brian Galloway, 30, participated in the celebration. He’s a tech support worker at PowerSchool in Folsom, not a sports fan until soccer came to town. Now he’s a season-ticket holder. A pint of Knee Deep Citra Extra Pale Ale splashed in his left hand. These games are his blast. They give him community, in a way that soccer appears to do in a distinctly different way from other sports.

11,569 Record crowd at Bonney Field for Republic FC’s home opener

Galloway wants MLS. But he and thousands of others are fine with USL, with the evidence from Saturday showing no falloff in their enthusiasm for their sport and each other.

“It’s always about hanging out, having a good time, being social,” Galloway said behind a bright red bush of a beard. “It was something for me and my wife to come to and hang out and do. It has kind of evolved into just enjoying being out here in the culture of soccer and watching it continue to grow.”

Their team is off to a terrific start in any league.

On Saturday, Buckle pushed the right buttons late in the game when he subbed in Iwasa, Octavio Guzman and Max Alvarez to pump up the pressure. The coach rewarded Iwasa for his game winner by assigning him to run wind sprints. It’s part of the deal for non-starters in the Buckle administration.

“He’s not thinking about his goal,” Buckle said. “He’s thinking about being fit and strong for the next game.”

For now, it will be in the USL. Soon enough, it’ll be about MLS. No matter which league, soccer’s still got the buzz in Sacramento. It’s playing a big role in its social and creative transformation.

Sacramento Republic FC opened the USL season hosting Arizona United SC on Saturday night, April 2, 2016 at Bonney Field. Sacramento won the match 1-0. McClatchy

Republic FC forward Cameron Iwasa talks about his game-winning goal in Sacramento's 1-0 win over Arizona United SC in USL home opener April 2, 2016 at Bonney Field. Bill PatersonThe Sacramento Bee

Republic FC coach Paul Buckle talks about his team's 1-0 win over Arizona United SC in USL home opener in front of Bonney Field record crowd on April 2, 2016. Bill PatersonThe Sacramento Bee

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo