MLS Expansion Hopefuls Rumble In California

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In a showdown between two cities with MLS aspirations, Sacramento Republic FC hosted FC Cincinnati at Bonney Field on Saturday night. A crowd of just under 9,000 turned up for one of the most anticipated contests of the USL preseason. Sacramento led the match late into the second half, but former Republic FC defender Harrison Delbridge found a late headed goal for FC Cincinnati to level the score. The match ended in a 2-2 stalemate.

MLS Expansion Hopefuls Rumble In California

First Half

The match was played on a sandy Bonney Field that has taken the brunt of the recent record setting rainfall in Northern California. FC Cincinnati took the lead in the 21st minute from the penalty spot. Aodhan Quinn converted the penalty kick after the referee awarded a foul for a takedown in the box on Harrison Delbridge. Republic FC nearly equalized in the 45th minute when Trevin Ceasar got behind FC Cincinnati’s back line. He was through for a one-on-one against goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, but launched his attempt well over the crossbar.

Second Half

FC Cincinnati’s captain Austin Berry left the game in the 55th minute after a tackle on Trevin Caesar left him worse for the wear. The injury appeared serious at first, but Berry left the field under his own power. Sacramento equalized ten minutes later. Aodhan Quinn was dispossessed in midfield, and the ball fell again to Trevin Caesar. He laid it off for defender James Kiffe who slotted it to the left of Mitch Hildebrandt and into goal.

Republic FC added a second in the 82nd minute. Harry Williams fired a shot from the top of the box in the play following a free kick. Hildebrandt saved but couldn’t control the ball. It bounced free and Wilson Kneeshaw was there to slot it home. The home side appeared to have the game won, but it was not to be.

In the fourth minute of stoppage time former Republic FC center back Harrison Delbridge headed a Casey Townsend cross into goal from close range. FC Cincinnati had equalized right before the final whistle. Delbridge was part of Sacramento Republic FC’s inaugural team that won the USL Championship in 2014.

MLS Expansion Overtones

As a preseason friendly, the match was significant mostly as a celebration of the growth of soccer in the United States. It was an advertisement for two teams that have been recognized successes at the lower levels of American soccer. They were the top two teams in average USL attendance last year. Neither team has missed the USL playoffs, and Sacramento can boast a first year championship in 2014.

Cincinnati and Sacramento are two of 12 cities that submitted applications in January to be one of the next four MLS expansion teams. Both cities have solid credentials to secure a spot. MLS will announce two winning bids by the end of 2017. The remaining two will be announced at a date to be determined.

USL Season On The Horizon

FC Cincinnati heads home for three weeks of training and two friendlies against the local Cincinnati universities. They begin their 2017 USL campaign away to the Charleston Battery on March 25th. Sacramento Republic FC has three more preseason matches against Reno 1868, SF Deltas, and the San Jose Earthquakes. They open their fourth USL regular season against Seattle Sounders 2 on Sunday March 26th.

Photo Credit: Orange and Blue Press