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Sacramento Republic FC strengthens bid for MLS franchise with new investors from NBA, NFL

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The San Jose Earthquakes USL-PRO affiliate may be a competitor in MLS before too long.

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Sacramento Republic FC supporters have a lot to cheer about lately
Sacramento Republic FC supporters have a lot to cheer about lately
Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

In the club's first professional season, the Sacramento Republic FC captured the USL PRO championship. This came as the organization made a very public push to be considered for a Major League Soccer franchise in the league's current expansion plan. Sacramento is thought to be in competition with MLS franchise seekers in Minnesota, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and other cities, but team announcements this week regarding new investors has pushed the California capital's bid to the front.

On Thursday, the Republic and the Sacramento Kings formally announced that the NBA side would take an ownership stake in the soccer club should it be granted a MLS franchise. The Kings, the only "big-four" professional sports organization in Sacramento, are a flagship brand in the community, and the partnership with the Republic allows the two organizations to pool their resources together to serve the Sacramento sporting public.

"We shared early on our desire to have the Sacramento Kings as a part of our efforts to secure MLS for Sacramento," said Republic FC lead investor Kevin Nagle in a club statement. "Their investment in Republic FC, and support of our bid for expansion rights, is just one more reason why we are ‘Built for MLS.'"

Later that night, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson revealed another big-time investor had agreed to join the Republic if and when the club is granted entry into MLS -- the San Francisco 49ers -- and that the beefed-up bid is now "too good to be true."

Is a Sacramento-San Jose rivalry in the near future?

The move by the 49ers, which play their home games at Levi's Stadium -- a few David Bingham goalkicks away from the Earthquakes new Avaya Stadium site -- comes at a time when team president Jed York said the NFL giants are looking to get more involved in investing in the beautiful game.

"We've looked at different soccer investments in the past, internationally, and in the MLS," but the Sacramento opportunity looked the most promising, York said to the Sacramento Bee.

York continued that he expected the 49ers organization could contribute greatly to the push to build a downtown stadium for the Republic in an area known as the Railyards. The partnership agreement also allows the Republic to match the clout of the investor bid from Minnesota, which features the Vikings of the NFL as a prominent backer. York said he would help make a formal pitch to MLS executives in the ongoing expansion process. MLS is expected to announce its next phase of expansion sometime in 2015.

"With a passionate fan base, a new stadium on the horizon, and a championship culture already established, Sacramento is primed to welcome a MLS franchise," said York in a club statement.

Meanwhile, it appears the Earthquakes will continue their association with the 49ers through the team's annual regular season game at Levi's Stadium. This year, the opponent is expansion team Orlando City SC, and the match is scheduled for Sunday, May 24. Tickets are now on sale to the general public.

While the Sacramento Republic FC continues to push for MLS entry, the club will still serve as the Earthquakes USL PRO affiliate. Last year, the Republic split that affiliation with the Portland Timbers, but that club has founded its own USL PRO team, the Timbers 2. In 2014, Quakes players such as Tommy Thompson, JJ Koval, Mike Fucito, and Adam Jahn played significant minutes for the third-division side. The agreement to continue the affiliation in 2015 is expected to help the Quakes gain more meaningful playing minutes for some of their second-team players.

On the field, the two clubs will play a preseason game against each other on February 21 at Bonney Field in Sacramento. It will mark the first game between the two teams since a U.S. Open Cup match played at Kezar Stadium last spring, a 2-1 thriller won by San Jose.