In soccer and in professional sports in general, we spend an exorbitant amount of time analyzing the offensive side of the ball, while the work that’s done on the defensive side is often overlooked. Personally, I like to see a goal scored as much as anyone, or a beautiful setup that leads to a goal, but I also LOVE watching the guys on the back line work, kick out dangerous balls, make skillful and courageous slide tackles, frustrate the opposing team, and just flat out get it done.
What I am describing epitomizes the back line of the 2016 Sacramento Republic (Republic). I am talking about Dominik Jakubek, Derek Foran, Chris Christian, James Kiffe, Emrah Klimenta, and others. Yes, it hasn’t been perfect. There have been a couple of games of late (Kitsap Pumas, LA Galaxy II and last Saturday versus Rio Grande Valley FC) where there have been head-scratching lapses on defense, but if you look at the entire season’s body of work, in particular United Soccer League (USL) play, it’s stunning how stingy and good the back line has been.
Through 13 USL games, the Republic have given up nine goals total, including seven at home and two on the road. The home/away goal differential may immediately jump out to you, but remember that the Republic have played eight of their first 13 games of their USL schedule at home. To get a better perspective on how good they have been on the defensive side, the Republic gave up 16 goals through 13 USL matches in 2015 and 17 goals through 13 USL matches in 2014. Essentially, the Republic have given up half as many goals at this point in the season compared to prior seasons.
Anchoring the defense is keeper Dominik Jakubek. Quietly, Dom (as he’s better known as) is having an incredible season. He is second in the USL in goals against average at 0.69 per game and tied for first in the league in minutes with 1170. Following Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros, I spoke with Jakubek to get his thoughts on the job the back line is doing, things that need to be cleaned up and how much he’s enjoying playing significant minutes for the Republic.
You give up the two goals tonight, but talk about the job you and the back line have done this season? You’ve only given up nine goals, which is the fewest ever for the Republic through 13 games.
[That’s] too many. Look, I’m a little down right now because we gave up the two goals because I feel like I could have done better getting the guys prepared mentally to get them to defend a little sharper tonight because we are known for our defensive game, but today I think we were a little loose and weak…letting guys come in. But to answer your question, yes the guys are doing great. We’re very organized, guys are professional, experienced, so it’s a lot of stress off my shoulders because I don’t have to do too much. But at the same time, it’s very frustrating because today was two shots and two goals, so it doesn’t really make me feel good. But at the same time, we got three goals and won the game. [We] just need to be prepared at every moment because anytime a guy can score a goal. But we’re doing great. I’m very pleased with everyone’s effort on the offense and with the defenders defending.
What are some things you’d like to see cleaned up moving forward?
We allow guys who come from the outside flanks…when they cut in, it’s too easy for them. There is nobody knocking them off the ball. [We are] allowing them to come inside which it makes it a little more difficult for the goalkeeper because they have to cover a tougher angle. If we could just be a little more wiser on positioning…[it] will help us improve our defensive. When it comes down to grit, playing hard and smart, we do it though, but sometimes I feel like we’re just maybe not ready at that moment. That leads to me though. It’s my job to make sure they’re ready and I take a lot of the blame. That’s all it is. Maybe a little more solid communication and just being aware at all times.
Talk about locking down the keeper position this season. What does it mean to you playing all these minutes and getting the opportunity?
I have to give thanks to the coaching staff because they gave me the confidence…even with the prior coach here, I was always confident. Yeah, you always want to play, but I’m a little older, so honestly, I’m just happy to be playing. I just work. I go to practice and I work. I don’t complain, argue about minutes. Back in the day Dom, that was him. I don’t want to be not in the game anymore because I had a big mouth, because I already have a big mouth. It’s an amazing feeling [to play] because it’s been three years of hard work and to get repaid for that is an absolute amazing feeling, because I rep this city and the 209. I’m from this area. To play for this club is honestly a childhood dream. My parents are here every game and my uncle, so I want to keep it going for another 10 years, but I got to make a couple more saves to keep going.
Where do you think the club is right now? The trajectory seems to be going up. Seven in-a-row without a loss.
Think about it as a roller coaster or climbing a mountain. You always want to keep going up. Yeah, there was times earlier in the season where we were going up, then down, then up, then down. But now, seven games and we’re going up. And we’re trying to get to the top of the mountain, and the top of the mountain is that championship trophy. That’s all we care about, all we talk about and all we believe in. Yeah, I think we’re confident right now. You got to believe in the process and the work the staff are doing. Because earlier in the season, we were crossing a bunch of balls in, but we couldn’t finish. Now we’re crossing balls in and we’re actually getting opportunities. Our system is fantastic, but the most important thing is that we’re solid defensively. They always say defense wins championships, so let’s hope that works out for us.
In the end, winning and championships is what it’s all about. For the Republic, the goals will come, but a solid defense is harder to come by in my opinion. Manager Paul Buckle and his staff have to feel pretty good about what they have. Don’t believe me? Just ask Dom…he knows what’s up.
Random notes: I’ve had a chance to interview many professional athletes over my life going way back to when I worked in professional basketball, and I’ve got to say that Dominik Jakubek was one of the best interviews ever. The guy has great energy, is articulate, personable and was incredibly gracious with his time.
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