New Republic FC owner should continue Sacramento’s meteoric rise in expansion conversation


Witness the competition for one of Major League Soccer’s last expansion slots: new stadium renderings in Las Vegas; a rebuttal from San Antonio; the continued strength of Minnesota’s options. As quickly as competitors are driving up that next expansion fee, they’re also adding to the depth of their bids, be it with new stadiums, heightened lobbying, or new, more influential investors.

Today, Sacramento has added the third option. Selling his controlling stake in the team he founded, Republic FC’s Warren Smith is giving way to Kevin Nagle, a part-time owner of the Sacramento Kings who now has a controlling interest in the Republic. Smith will stay on as club president, while Nagle becomes the leading figure in the nascent team’s quest for first division soccer.

“Kevin’s leadership and investment in Republic FC positions (gives) us as one of the top ownership groups in the sport,” said Republic FC President Warren Smith, via a statement posted to the club’s website. “His success, credibility and financial wherewithal provide us the capability to succeed with our MLS bid.”

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, described by the Sacramento Bee as a close friend and ally of Nagle, also praised the move.

“This is a big win for Republic FC and our efforts to secure an MLS franchise,” Johnson said. A former NBA point guard, Johnson worked with Nagle to keep the Kings in Sacramento in the face of a last year’s threatened relocation to Seattle.

The relationship may be why today’s announcement is seen as a step forward in Sacramento’s question for Major League Soccer. From the Bee:

The announcement that Nagle owns the Republic was seen as a necessary step to underscore the seriousness of Sacramento’s bid to join MLS. Nagle and Johnson have spoken in general terms of formulating a privately financed stadium that could host an MLS team. One site could be in the currently vacant downtown rail yards.

Kevin Nagle, the founder and former CEO of Envision Pharmaceutical Holdings, will lead Republic FC’s quest to win a place in Major League Soccer.

“I love Sacramento – its community, resilience and potential,” Nagle said in the Republics, statement. “Early on, I admired Republic FC’s success and efforts to galvanize this region; its bid for MLS is not only about sports, but also a shared vision for Sacramento. I am honored to work side-by-side with Mayor Kevin Johnson and Republic FC President Warren Smith to procure MLS for Sacramento and demonstrate why this region is built for MLS.”

With Nagle in place and Johnson on board, Sacramento’s meteoric rising into the MLS conversation should continue. While there are some concerns about the bid — lack of prolonged history; nearly losing its NBA team last year; being too close to the sun — there are a number of positives coming into play, included the team’s record attendance in USL Pro.

Averaging 11,842 per game in the third tier, the Republic’s success is undeniable. And solid ownership has always been a vital component of an MLS expansion bid. Looking across the landscape, few other locations offer the same collection of benefits as California’s capital.

As somebody who has spent much of my life in Central California (albeit, not Sacramento), I’m torn. Of the many times I’ve visited Sacramento, exactly zero recommended the city for potential MLS success. Be it in its history, demographics, or the geography/environment of the region, Sacramento seems to bear few similarities to the markets that are now fueling Major League Soccer.

But thanks to Smith, that narrative is quickly changing. The huge fan base is reminiscent of the Cascadia teams that have joined the league over the last six years. The ownership group may become reminiscent of Joey Saputo (Montréal) or Phil Rawlins (Orlando City), though we’ll need more time to judge. And although Sacramento’s summer weather presents a challenge, it’s not one that can’t be overcome.

Whatever negatives we spitballed about Sacramento may find a different perspective, particularly in light of the rest of Major League Soccer’s options. If the league were stopping at 20 franchises, the city may be a hard sell. Expand that field to 24, and all of a sudden Sacramento has a lot to offer.

MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Sounders 1-0 Sporting KC (video)

Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres, right, exchanges words with Sporting Kansas City's Kevin Ellis, left, and Soni Mustivar, center, after Sounders' midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (not shown) was given a yellow card for a foul against midfielder Roger Espinoza in the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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The game in 100 words (or less): There’s a ton to unpack here, so we’ll dive right in. The Seattle Sounders topped Sporting Kansas City in the final knockout-round game of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. Nelson Valdez scored the game’s only goal, an 88th-minute header, but not without supreme controversy. For starters, Valdez was offside as Joevin Jones played the ball into the box, just as Matt Besler was on a free kick for Sporting earlier in the second half. Besler’s goal was ruled out for offside, Valdez’s was allowed to stand. Benny Feilhaber, perhaps in his final game for Sporting, played like a man possessed and so nearly singlehandedly won the game for Sporting at multiple points on the night. Stefan Frei stood on his head and refused to allow such an occurrence. Osvaldo Alonso could have been sent off twice on the night — once on a straight red; once on a second yellow — but finished the game with just a single caution. Up next, the Sounders will take on Supporters’ Shield-winning FC Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

10′ — Zusi hits the post with a strike through traffic — Benny Feilhaber’s through ball to set up this double-chance for Sporting in sumptuous, and fully deserving of a proper finish.

53′ — Besler heads home, but he’s offside — This is about as close an onside/offside decisions get.

79′ — Frei denies Feilhaber after a spectacular run — Feilhaber’s run was mesmerizing, but Stefan Frei’s save was the tiniest bit better.

88′ — Valdez heads home the late winner — If Besler was offside, Valdez was offside. An unfitting end to a thrilling game.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Benny Feilhaber

Goalscorers: Valdez (88′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: D.C. United 2-4 Montreal Impact (video)

CORRECTS DATE - Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu, back, celebrates his goal with Ignacio Piatti (10) during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match against D.C. United, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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The game in 100 words (or less): There are epic playoff collapses, and there is the MLS Cup Playoffs abomination put forth by D.C. United on Thursday. Playing host to a Montreal Impact side that won just two of its last eight regular-season games and crawled over the finish line, United — winners of four of their last five and one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch — no-showed Thursday’s knockout-round tie, and their season is deservingly finished. Laurent Ciman put the Impact ahead inside the first five minutes, and United never recovered or seemed the least bit urgent with their season on the line. Matteo Mancosu bagged a brace either side of halftime to make it 3-0, and Ignacio Piatti, who was his usual brilliant self — so good, in fact, he made you forget Didier Drogba was unavailable due to injury/dispute over his role as a substitute — added a fourth not long before full-time. Lamar Neagle grabbed a late consolation goal for United, bringing them back to 4-1 before Taylor Kemp fired a laser past Evan Bush for 4-2 late in stoppage time, but that’s as close as they’d get. Up next for the Impact, it’s the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three moments that mattered

4′ — Ciman slots home from a corner for 1-0 — An absolute dream start for Montreal, as Ciman gets front side of his marker and benefits from a fortunate bounce after he scuffs the shot.

43′ — Mancosu slams home Piatti’s cross for 2-0 — Someone tell DCU that the knockout round is most definitely win-or-go-home. Horrific defending. Ball-watching all over the place. This is not the same team that won four of their last five in order to host this game.

58′ — Mancosu heads home at the near post for 3-0 — Steve Birnbaum has not had the greatest end to the 2016 season. Stay healthy, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Matteo Mancosu

Goalscorers: Ciman (4′), Mancosu (43′, 58′), Piatti (83′), Neagle (90′), Kemp (90+4′)

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.