Sacramento clings to playoff hope after offense falls flat in tie with Tacoma

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Kharlton Belmar and Darek Formella sank to the field Sunday after their home game with Tacoma Defiance.

The Sacramento Republic players wanted this one. With a playoff spot on the line, they gave their all and it wasn’t enough in a 0-0 tie. That’s often been the case this season as the Quails have watched chances sail left, right and over opponents’ goals this season.

Sacramento easily led Tacoma in possession (58.9% to 41.1%) and duels won (57% to 43%). None of that mattered.

Republic coach Mark Briggs was relatively happy with his team’s defensive work. He liked the buildup out of his midfielders. But, as has often been the case this season, Sacramento simply could not finish scoring opportunities Sunday.

“I think it gets to a point where it becomes something mental, right? It becomes mentally draining, it becomes something that the players and everyone in the stadium feels,” Briggs said. “And unfortunately, we haven’t found a way out of it. And we continue to get the same results.”

The results could doom Sacramento to missing the playoffs for the first time.

The only team the Quails could possibly catch in the playoff race is L.A. Galaxy II, which is five points ahead of Sacramento with three games left to play this season while Sacramento has just two remaining games. Republic would need to win its remaining two games, against the top teams in the division, while Galaxy loses three straight in order to have a chance at the playoffs.

There are other teams in the hunt. Oakland and Tacoma are both tied with Sacramento on points in the standings. Oakland and Tacoma play each other Wednesday night, meaning at least one of them will be ahead of Sacramento in the standings. A tie would dump Sacramento into seventh place in the eight-team Pacific Division.

Add it all up and it’s clear the stars would have to align for Sacramento to eke out a playoff spot.

“It was a difficult one,” Carlos Saldaña said. “We knew coming into it that it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s unfortunate not to get the result that we wanted, but I’m proud of the boys. They worked their butts off.”

Both teams managed just two shots on goal, with Saldaña making a nice stop on a second-half attempt. But both keepers had mostly quiet afternoons.

There was also a dangerous play near the end of the first half that resulted in a serious head injury for Tacoma’s Randy Mendoza. After Shannon Gomez lost control of a teammate’s pass, Gomez and Mendoza sprinted toward each other for the loose ball. Mendoza slid and was hit in the head by Gomez’s leg.

Doctors, trainers and EMTs immediately came to help. Mendoza was carefully lifted on a board onto a cart, then transported by ambulance to a hospital where a concussion was diagnosed. Mendoza was expected to spend the night in the hospital, according to Defiance officials.

“It’s difficult to see a colleague of the game go down like that, but you pray for him. I hope nothing but the best for him,” Saldaña said. “... We know what it means. It’s difficult. We know what we risk every time we step on the field; it’s a contact sport even though people may not say that. We know that’s always a possibility.”

It was a gloomy part of a game that lacked a key moment for either team.

Briggs had a conversation with the officials at midfield after the game, asking why Duke Lacroix didn’t earn a penalty kick on a second-half play in the penalty box. The no-call was one of many missed opportunities, but Briggs was quick to say “it’s not their fault we don’t win games.”

That responsibility would fall to the players and coaches. Republic heads to division-leading Phoenix on Saturday before hosting the season finale against San Diego, the second-best team in the division, on Oct. 30.

“We’ve got to dust ourselves off and keep going,” Briggs said. “There’s two games left. And we’ve got to do as much as we can in those two games and try and get six points against two very good teams. But we have to keep going.”

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