Photo by Kiel Maddox / Fresno FC
The 99 Derby continues Saturday in its third, and final regular-season battle when Fresno FC visits Sacramento Republic FC. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m at Papa Murphy's Park, where the Republic has lost just one game this season, going 4W-1L-5D on their home field at Cal Expo.
Sacramento won the first outing, 1-0 over Fresno FC on June 13th. Republic's Luis Espino scored the only goal of the evening, pushing in a rebound after Jure Matjasic's shot was blocked by C.J. Cochran at the 37th minute. A few short weeks later, Fresno got revenge with a 2-0 win on June 30 receiving goals from Juan Pablo Caffa and Franck Tayou. The two teams also met in the preseason, playing to a 1-1 draw at Turlock's Warrior Stadium. This time, bragging rights will be put on the line in Sacramento as Fresno hopes to extend its unbeaten streak to six matches as the Foxes make the push for the USL Cup Playoffs.
The Foxes will hope to continue its offensive production that is among the best in the Western Conference. They are second in total shots (321), sixth in goals (33) and eighth in conversion rate (13.7%) Leading the attack are Jemal Johnson (8 goals), Juan Pablo Caffa (7), and Christian Chaney (4).
Caffa has been on fire as of late, recording three goals, two assists and 12 key passes in July that saw the Foxes go unbeaten in all four matches. His impressive form earned him two USL Team of the Week awards in the first half of the month, and yesterday he was announced as a nominee for USL Player of the Month. Defensively, Fresno has allowed just three goals in the last 450 minutes with a back line anchored by USL Team of the Week selection Ramon Martin Del Campo and former Republic FC defender Mickey Daly.
The Foxes will be without assists leader Zach Ellis-Hayden (4), as the right back must serve a one-match suspension after picking up his fifth yellow card against Tulsa Roughnecks. Expected to return to the 18-man lineup are center back Cory Brown and left back Alex Cooper, who have been recovering from a pair of hamstring strains. Brown has missed the previous five matches while the previous three nursing their injuries.
Sacramento heads into Saturday unbeaten in its previous four matches, also going without a loss in July. At the helm of Republic FC's success is forward Cameron Iwasa (10 goals, 4 assists), and midfielder Villyan Bijev (3 goals, 3 assists). Netminder Josh Cohen has helped anchor the club with 89 saves and seven shutouts in 22 starts this season. Since their last meeting, Sacramento has acquired defender Emrah Klimenta, who leads the club in all-time appearances (119) and starts (112). A former callup of the Montenegro Men's National Team, Klimenta has played for Republic FC in each of its five years, including the team's inaugural season of 2014, when Sacramento won the USL championship.
Ramon Martin Del Campo and the Foxes will look to pick up their second victory against Republic FC on Saturday. / Photo by Aaron Provencio, Fresno FC
MIDFIELDER DANNY BARRERA
It’s my job. That’s what I want to do. I want to win games regardless of who it’s against, you know. It’s not personal. It’s just business, I guess.
FORWARD CHRISTIAN CHANEY
I’ve been kind of itching to play in that stadium once I left it last season, so yeah, there’s definitely something bittersweet to going back over there and being in the opposing locker room and getting in front of that fans who were actually really good and supportive of me when I was there, but you know I want to bring this win back home for Fresno.
HEAD COACH ADAM SMITH
They won the first one and we won the second one, so I suppose for bragging rights, whoever wins this one gets the rights this year. But, at the end of the day, we’ve got two very good teams out there: ourselves and Sacramento. They are a very good team so. It is going to be a good game of football and that’s what the crowd are going to want to see.
Fresno FC faces Republic FC for the first time as a visitor when the Foxes take the pitch Saturday at Papa Murphy's Park - a familiar field that was once home to now Fresno FC players Danny Barrera, Agustin Cazarez, Christian Chaney and Mickey Daly, as well as then-assistant coach Adam Smith.
Fresno FC continues its push towards the USL Cup Playoffs, as the Foxes hope to secure one of the Western Conference's eight spots. The Foxes (7W-7L-9D) are currently in ninth with 30 points, one point behind eighth-place San Antonio FC (8W-5L-7D), and just two behind sixth and seventh place clubs, Portland Timbers 2 and Swope Park Rangers, respectively. With 11 matches remaining in the USL regular season - six of which are against teams higher in the standings - the Foxes have opportunities to gain ground as they look to make the postseason in their inaugural year.
Los Zorros enjoyed a month without defeat, going 2W-0L-2D in July - their first unbeaten month since April when Los Zorros were unbeaten for a stretch of seven straight matches from March 24 to April 28. Currently, the Foxes are unbeaten in five matches and look to extend that to six against Republic FC.