Andy Furillo: Republic FC and Kings are tale of two franchises

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Source:   —  April 16, 2016, at 6:09 AM

Sunshine splashed a celebration Thursday on L Str with the Major League Soccer commissioner’s announcement that he expects Sacramento to connect his league by two thousand twenty.

Andy Furillo: Republic FC and Kings are tale of two franchises

Positive and negative ions bombarded the Sacramento sports landscape this week, from a downtown soccer obstruct party to a basketball sacking in N Natomas. Sunshine splashed a celebration Thursday on L Str with the Major League Soccer commissioner’s announcement that he expects Sacramento to connect his league by two thousand twenty. Minutes later and a few miles up the freeway, gloom engulfed the Kings’ practice gym, where it was proclaimed a future Corridor of Fame coach wasn’t excellent sufficient for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade.

In midtown, mayor Kevin Johnson led the cheers and swung an air baseball bat to signify a ball being knocked out of the park when MLS Commissioner Don Garber told a crowd estimated by the mayor at 2.000 to 3.000, “We are making the announcement today: We'll go to twenty-eight teams, and we hope and we totally expect that Sacramento is one of the next four.” The crowd roared.

At the practice courts following to Sleep Train Arena, Kings common manager Vlade Divac sat on a stool surrounded by reporters holding microphones and cameras. He announced to the world that he was firing George Karl, the fifth-winningest coach in NBA history – and the fifth one dispatched by the Kings in six years. Somebody had to reply for the team’s failed 33-49 season, and Divac couldn’t fire the owner – or the ill-tempered middle in whom the owner has invested $60 million. The joyless Kings finished the season looking as if they were trying to lose games to rescue a conditional draft pick – an abomination of the athletic spirit of competition.

In a town on the rise, sports has become a very necessary portion of the municipal symphony, both economically and culturally. The Kings are building a palace just a few blocks down L Str from where the Tower Bridge Battalion drank beer Thursday in the late-morning sun, in a serenade to Garber and the soccer kings. The arena has fueled an explosion of food and drink and music and art and entrepreneurship and engineering at Sacramento’s core. The soccer phenomenon appears poised to launch a similar boom several blocks to the north, with the construction of a stadium for Republic FC in what're presently the open fields of the railyard.

Synergistically, the two organizations have breathed fire into the region. Operationally, they see to be going in different directions, one guided by the promise of a major-league future, the other mired in a past and present of failure and firings.

One of them feels organic, farm to fork. The energy of Republic FC springs from the yearnings of its fans, who like soccer and Sacramento. More than 9.000 have purchased season tickets to look a third-division version of the world sport. With handcrafted beer in hand, they patiently wait to become portion of MLS, while the managers of their franchise move forward with professionalism and confidence.

The other team, which nearly left town three years ago, screams desperation as it grasps for a way out of its mess. In doing so, the Kings have pressed the remove button on a coach who led them to their most wins in eight years. Even worse, at the finish of the season, the Kings kept their most talented players far from games they apparently hoped to lose. If anything signified dysfunction, it was this perception of failed effort. The draft choose wasn’t worth the shame it cost to keep it.

On L Street, Garber looked over a cheering, chanting crowd, many holding enormous placards of his smiling likeness high over their heads. He thanked the fans for their support “for everything that we care so much about, which is to indicate the world that the United States is a grand soccer nation.” He said it was “never in our wildest dreams” to look a Str blocked off downtown in the center of a business day to celebrate soccer. He commended the connections he saw between public and private partners and fans to create a market, he said, that's “punched over its weight,” toward a heavier division.

At Sleep Train Arena, Divac spoke of disconnection, and there was plenty of that. Upper management, the coach and the players weren't on the same page, he said. The team “underachieved” below a “great coach.” Divac said he wanted “a new voice” and a new direction but couldn’t declare if it was east, west, N or south. As for the new coach, the Kings’ goal is “to create sure that we bring in somebody who's going to be here more than one year.” It wasn’t precisely an I-Have-A-Dream kind of vision.

It’s a comic sports town, Sacramento, where minor-league soccer is a sense of pride and hope, and big-league basketball is a source of civic embarrassment.

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