The San Jose Earthquakes continue their preseason march with a friendly against the Sacramento Republic FC on Saturday afternoon. The meeting between the Quakes and their USL affiliate will kick off at 5:00 p.m. from Bonney Field in Sacramento.
The two teams play at different levels of the American Soccer Pyramid, but they have faced off in the past. Last June, the two Northern California rivals met in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament, a match won by the Earthquakes 2-1 at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
In 2014, the Earthquakes and the Portland Timbers shared an affiliation agreement with the Republic, and both MLS teams sent numerous players on loan to Sacramento. This season, Portland has ceased that relationship and created its own team in the USL, so the Quakes will be the sole MLS affiliate of Sacramento.
Four Earthquakes spent time with the Republic last season as part of that club's inaugural season. Rookies Tommy Thompson and JJ Koval both found minutes in Sacramento earlier in the year -- Thompson as part of his rehabilitation from offseason surgery and Koval in order to keep fresh when first team minutes were lacking. Veteran forward Mike Fucito also suited up for the Republic in 2014, playing four games and scoring two goals -- the same number scored by Koval in three appearances.
But it was Adam Jahn, then in his sophomore MLS season, that made the greatest impact of the four Quakes loanees. Jahn, in 22 appearances for Sacramento, score seven goals and was a big part of the Republic's push to win the USL championship. He credits his time with Sacramento and head coach Preki as instrumental in improving his game, and in the 2015 preseason with San Jose, he has been the team's leading scorer.
Jahn will hope to take the field Saturday night against the Republic, as will the other three loan veterans of 2014. Sacramento's meteoric rise as a soccer hot-bed has made it a serious candidate for MLS expansion, and sell-out crowds at Hughes Stadium and Bonney Stadium last year allowed the club to set the all-time record for USL attendance. Jahn is no stranger to the Republic supporters, and he relishes the chance to face his former teammates.
"Yeah, it should be really fun," said Jahn. "Bonney Field is a great atmosphere, and I know everyone there. Great people, and it should be a fun game."
Watching the game, however, will not be easy, especially for Earthquakes fans, unless you already have a ticket. The Republic announced earlier this week that all 8000+ tickets to the friendly had been sold, and there will be no walk-up sales on game day. Those fans of both teams lucky enough to have a ticket will be the only ones to enjoy the NorCal Derby -- there will be no live streaming over the Internet or radio broadcast of the match.
The Earthquakes kick off their MLS season in two weeks when they travel to Texas to face FC Dallas on March 7. Sacramento, meanwhile, opens its sophomore USL campaign on March 21 when it visits Seattle's new entry in the league, Sounders 2. By that time, it is expected that some of the younger Quakes will be sent on loan to the Republic, though a timetable on when those loans will be announced will likely wait until the end of the MLS preseason.
"We'll deal with it when the times comes," Earthquakes head coach Dominic Kinnear said earlier in the week. "We will deal with Sacramento with guys we feel are the right candidates to go there."
Much like last year, the Quakes are expected to send up to four players on loan to Sacramento at any given time. Rookie Alashe Fatai is a possible candidate, as the Quakes first round MLS SuperDraft pick recovers from an injury setback suffered at the league's pre-draft combine and will need competitive minutes to regain his playing acumen. Target forward Mark Sherrod, or even Jahn for a second season, are other possibilities.
While Saturday's game is the only scheduled NorCal Derby this year, it is very possible that the Quakes and Republic will meet later this spring in the U.S. Open Cup. Given that U.S. Soccer has given priority to geographical match-ups in this year's tournament, a fourth round rematch hinges on Sacramento surviving its earlier round games.
The Earthquakes have two more preseason matches left on their schedule following Saturday's game. After a midweek friendly against the SF Stompers, San Jose will open Avaya Stadium with a match against defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy. Tickets for the Quakes new stadium's debut are almost sold out.