Portland Timbers are to enter an affiliate agreement with the USL Pro Sacramento Republic. The California club will join the league for the 2014 season.
The Republic already have a Cascadian connection.
Former US international Preki was announced as the club’s head coach in July 2013. He has some knowledge of the football culture of the Pacific Northwest as he made his U.S. debut in 1985 with the Tacoma Stars of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL),
Current players include former Timber Peter Lowry and former USL Whitecap John Jones. Lowry had the distinction of having scored for the Timbers reserves in a Cascadian derby.
The Sacramento region itself has a soccer heritage with the club site claiming that there are more than 93,000 registered soccer players in the Sacramento region.
The agreement will include player loans and the current plan is that the new club will play and train at the Hughes Stadium on the campus of Sacramento Community College.
However a news report on the club site reports that ‘Cal Expo and Ovations Food Service are currently negotiating the building of a multi-use facility that would feature a full grass pitch on the grounds of the California State Fair and that if this 8,000 seat facility is built, it would include a full grass pitch and serve as the home site for Sacramento Republic FC as soon as its inaugural season in 2014’.
USL Pro is sanctioned as a Division III Professional League by United States Soccer Federation placing it under MLS and the NASL. The league is integrated into the MLS reserve league. The current champions are MLS bound Orlando City.
At present four MLS clubs have such agreements, Sporting Kansas City with Orlando City, the Philadelphia Union with Harrisburg City Islanders, D.C. United with the Richmond Kickers and the New England Revolution with the Rochester Rhinos.
Sacramento are the closest USL club to Portland and the fit is natural. The agreement would mean the end of a Timbers Reserve side in the MLS Reserve League but the move allows the club to expand its fanbase into California; as a bonus doing so right on the San Jose Earthquakes’ doorstep.
The affiliate agreement will involve the expected player loans and a coach moving. Given it means the abolition of the Timbers Reserve side, the man moving south may well be Timbers Reserve coach Amos Magee. Sacramento can also develop younger players that may be interesting to Portland.
There is an interesting parallel between the Timbers and the Republic, that being baseball.
Warren Smith is the manager and president of Sacramento Republic. He was part of the investor group that raised funds to build a stadium for the Triple A baseball team the River Cats. Today the River Cats are ranked by Forbes Magazine as the most valuable Minor League Baseball team in the country.
Smith has always harboured an interest in soccer though. On July 18, 2013, the same Raley Field hosted a soccer match, a friendly featuring Mexican side Dorados de Sinaloa and Barclays Premier League side Norwich City which Norwich won 3-0 with an impressive attendance of 14,014.
Ironically the curtain raiser for that match was between he Sacramento All-Star team and the San Jose Earthquakes reserve squad.
Smith felt at the time that Sacramento needed soccer, and the Republic were named after a fan vote.