SACRAMENTO — After a nearly four-month hiatus, professional sports returned to California on Monday.
And just like everything in life lately, it looked a whole lot different when Sacramento Republic FC played the Tacoma Defiance to a 3-3 draw at Papa Murphy’s Park in the first game of a modified USL Championship season.
For the first time in Republic history, there were no fans on hand, only a collection of art posted in the north stands coupled with a handful of media members, allowed in only after passing symptom and temperature checks.
Though the game began with participants kneeling and providing a moment of silence in recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement, it would stay nearly silent throughout — only the occasional yell from a player was heard throughout a stadium with 11,569 seats empty.
This is the reality of sports in 2020 …
Facing a depleted Tacoma side that had lost many of its players to the Seattle Sounders FC roster for the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, the Republic conceded the opening goal of the game in less than a minute.
With only 18 days to prepare for the hastily arranged and truncated season — contact training began on June 25 — rust was to be expected as the last time Sacramento took the field was all the way back on March 7.
“It’s been difficult, it’s not been easy,” said head coach Mark Briggs. “We weren’t coming out (Monday) expecting for it to be the perfection of a performance, everything to be top drawer. There’s a lot of things that are happening in the world — and happened in the stadium tonight — that are a little bit different for the players in their preparation.
“It’s … a little bit unusual, that’s not an excuse, we have to be better, but I think it’s going to take (time) for people to adapt and people to adjust to the new normal,” the coach added.
That new normal featured some of the old normal for Sacramento, though. Club legend Rodrigo Lopez made his first start since leaving after the 2015 season and rewarded the non-existant 凯发体育官方sporthome fans by winning a penalty kick that Dariusz Formella converted, then assisting on Tomas Hilliard-Arce’s goal.
Formella would score again to put the Republic up, 3-1, but legs tired from the heat and long layoff and the visitors hit the back of the net twice to take a point away from the game.
“The challenges were just staying focused and creating a family team environment with everything going on,” Hilliard-Arce said after the game in a socially distanced press conference that took place over Zoom. “I think that we had actually done a fantastic job of preparing, whether it was the initial part of quarantine or once we got playing together as a team, it’s just really hard to put it into words what we’ve done and then to show this on our first performance was a lot of a let down.”
Those challenges are league and countrywide as well. While most sports leagues, such as the NWSL, the NBA and MLS have elected to host every team at a set location in a tournament format, the 35-team USL Championship decided to place clubs in groups of four or five based on geography.
Though each team will host games in its groups, the allowance of fans is up to local governing guidelines. The point earned on Monday night put Sacramento in second place in Group A, one point behind leader Reno 1868 FC, whom the Republic host Sunday at 6 p.m.
The Defiance and Portland Timbers FC 2 round out the group, with the top two teams making the playoffs after 16 total matches (including those played before the pandemic taken into account).
For the match, Republic players eschewed wearing traditional surnames on the back of their jerseys, with each shirt reading “Black Lives Matter.”
“It’s something that we wanted to do as a club, it was something that was spoken about and something that everybody believes in,” Briggs said of the nod to the BLM movement. “It was a pretty impactful moment, a pretty powerful moment, which I think speaks volumes.”
— Reach staff writer Evan Ream at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam.ShareTweet