SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Soccer is catching fire in Sacramento, but that wasn’t always the case for the city’s teams.
The Sacramento Republic plays in the country’s third professional tier, yet it’s drawing more fans to its home games than half of Major League Soccer teams.
The success of soccer began more than three decades ago with a team that was good as gold, or so everyone thought.
“We had every reason to expect it was going to continue,” former Sacramento Gold general manager Greg Van Dusen said.
The Sacramento Gold, first nicknamed the Spirit, were born in 1976 as part of a major expansion of professional soccer in America. It was a year after Brazilian star Pele started playing for the New York Cosmos and piqued the nation’s interest.
“They were ready for something,” Van Duzen said. “We didn’t have minor-league baseball, and obviously we didn’t have the Kings yet, so that’s what there was.”
He says three years later, the team was drawing 10,000 spectators to Hughes Stadium—the same venue the Republic have sold out multiple times as they wait for Bonney Field to be ready at Cal Expo.
“The fans just got into it. The kids would come out in their jerseys and all that stuff,” he said.
The good times wouldn’t last though. One year after winning the 1979 championship, financial problems began to surface. The team that fans were falling in love with was on the brink of bankruptcy.
Former owner John Andreotti could build cabinets better than most, but running a soccer team proved to be the craft he could not master.
“Maybe it has to continue without me. I’ve done everything I can. I don’t know what else could be done,” he said.
With bills piling up, the club refused to buy airplane tickets for away games, and rumors swirled that players were no longer getting paid. The team would fold shortly after, and the professional Sacramento team was dead in Sacramento.
Now in 2014, there’s a new team with a new name and a new fan base. The Republic emerged 34 years after the Gold disappeared.
Where the Gold lost its shine, the Republic hopes to strike it rich, one goal at a time.
“In the 30 years since the Gold, people are getting more into soccer, people are considering it a real sport. It’s not just something the other kids play,” said former professional soccer player Jeremy Field.