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Brian in Boston

North American Pro Soccer 2021

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I've followed Sacramento Republic FC's "Indomitable" story from the earliest whisperings of a Sacramento-based USL franchise being granted to Warren Smith and Joe Wagoner in December of 2012, through the unveiling of the club's striking identity seven months later, forward to the absolute electricity of an attendance record-shattering and championship-winning inaugural season in 2014, and onward through six subsequent USL campaigns and the various twists and turns of the quest to attain Major League Soccer membership. As I sit here today, in the wake of Friday's announcement that billionaire Ron Burkle was pulling out as lead investor of an MLS club in California's capital city, I can't help but think that Sacramento Republic FC's fairy tale has become a cautionary one.

I don't mean or wish to disparage any of the figures that have played a role in growing Sacramento Republic FC from a mere gleam in the eye of its founders to the verge of MLS competition. That said, it seems to me that with each change of lead investor in the club's ownership group, the increase in financial resources has been accompanied by a commensurate decrease in the gut-level passion for the team that said principal has brought to the table. That's not to say that the likes of Kevin Nagle or Ron Burkle wouldn't be committed owners of a Sacramento Major League Soccer team. Rather, I question whether the thought of owning and operating an MLS side excites them as much, fills them with as much joy as it did Warren Smith?

Waren Smith possessed the vision and enthusiasm to bring pro soccer to Sacramento, and the passion and commitment to build an organization that would put the city on the radar of MLS officials as a potential expansion candidate. That said, he didn't have the financial wherewithal to secure and operate a major professional sports franchise.

Kevin Nagle brought more financial resources to the table, and clearly thought enough of the possibility of wanting to bring Major League Soccer to Sacramento to get involved in the venture, but he still didn't possess the net worth necessary to be the lead owner of a modern top-tier pro sports franchise. More importantly, I question whether he "lived and breathed" Sacramento Republic FC soccer to the extent that Warren Smith did as the team's founder?

Finally, while Ron Burkle clearly outstrips both Smith and Nagle in terms of financial resources, I just never got the sense that Sacramento Republic FC represented anything more than an investment opportunity to him. A Major League Soccer club was an entry on a ledger in his eyes. In fact, I may be misremembering things, but didn't Burkle openly grouse at the event announcing Sacramento's entry to MLS about the league's expansion fee having increased from $150 million to $200 million? In any event, Burkle's heart never truly seemed in the venture.

My heart truly goes out to Republic fans. One of my favorite memories as an LAFC supporter is of hosting Sacramento Republic at Banc of California Stadium in the Round of 16 of the 2018 U.S. Open Cup. You folks truly brought some passion to the South End of the Banc that night.

Such a sad state of affairs.                  

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