Dave’s Barber Shop in old town Elk Grove typically doesn’t open until 8 a.m. on Thursdays. But, this isn’t a typical Thursday.
It’s game day for the Sacramento Republic FC professional soccer team and in what has become a morning ritual when Sac Republic has a home match, Carlos Martinez and Rodrigo “RoRo” Lopez get a hair cut.
|Rodrigo "RoRo" Lopez, with local barber Joseph Bussie
It’s 7:15 a.m. and barber Joseph Bussie greets Martinez. The blinds in the window and the door are still drawn.
“It isn’t because of their celebrity status so much as it is I like to cut Carlos hair and take my time without the pressure of customers waiting,” Bussie explains.
Martinez gets a special cut from Bussie on his frequent visits to Dave’s, something he calls the “Carlos Cut.” It’s hard to describe but the part in his hair is very definitive and the sides are cut very short with a thick flock of hair left on top.
A few minutes later in walk Lopez, the leading scorer on Sac Republic FC. Lopez likes the special treatment from Bussie.
“It’s game day, gets me looking good and gets me away from home, a chance to relax and watch SportsCenter,” Lopez explains pointing to one of the many TV monitors in the barber shop.
Sac Republic will take on Arizona United SC about 12 hours later.
|Carlos Martinez, modeling the "Carlos Cut"
The pair has been coming to Bussie since they arrived in Sacramento this spring. Teammate Jack Avesyan told them about his barber and they started coming to Bussie when he was cutting hair at a midtown Sacramento shop. Three months ago Bussie moved his business to Dave’s and his soccer clientele followed.
For Martinez and Lopez the move to Old Town was advantageous. Both live in Elk Grove during the season to be close to the team’s practice site, Cosumnes River College.
Lopez, at age 27, is one of the veterans on the club. He was Sacramento Republic FC’s first player signed to a contract.
Sac Republic is his eighth professional team. When he got the offer to come to Sacramento when the USL expanded to northern California, Lopez jumped at the opportunity.
“I prefer USL because the level of play is more physical,” he said. “MLS does have more talent, a little big higher level.”
Though he’s just 5-7, Lopez’ aggressive style has earned him four yellow cards this season. One more yellow and he has to sit out a game.
“I hope I don’t pick up my fifth tonight, I don’t want to miss the fireworks game,” he quips. They play Orange County Blues FC on July 4 at 7:30 p.m. Cal Expo’s traditional huge fireworks display will follow the game.
Lopez’ resume includes a couple stops with MSL, the biggest pro soccer organization in the U.S. Minimum pay for players in that league is $50,000. USL hasn’t quite gotten there in salaries so Lopez has to work construction in the off-season. He now has a family of his own. He’s a father of a one-year-old, Roman, and when it’s in the off-season he, his wife and son live in Santa Barbara.
Lopez thinks he has several more good years left in pro soccer.
“Hopefully, another five or seven years,” he said. “It all depends on how well I take care of my body and how I do the next couple years.”
Going into Thursday’s game he has 17 points, five goals and seven assists.
Martinez is just 22-years-old. Like Lopez, he’s a midfielder. But, Martinez has been coming off the bench this season and has just one assist to his record.
Martinez grew up in San Pedro but while in high school he moved to Bradenton, Florida, to be a part of the USA Soccer’s U-17 residency program. There he finished high school while under the tutelage of some of the country’s top soccer coaches.
“The top kids in the nation were there, all expenses paid for,” he said.
In 2009 he was a member of the USA’s U-17 World Cup team.
Martinez turned pro and moved to Germany where he played for FC Rot-Weiss Erfurt and FC Energie Cottbus. He became fluent in German and loved playing in that country.
“They were passionate,” Martinez said. “Some (fans) walk around with tattoos of their favorite club.”
Both Lopez and Martinez say playing for Sacramento Republic FC in its inaugural season is special. Just about every home game has been a sell-out. More than 20,000 fans attended the matches when the team played at Hughes Stadium.
“I wasn’t expecting 20,000 there,” Lopez said. “It is pretty special to go out and see that many people support you, especially because it isn’t MLS.”
With the exception of Orlando, Sacramento has had some of the largest home crowds in USL.
Now Sac Republic has a brand new home in Bonney Field, an 8,000-seat stadium on the grounds of Cal Expo, built specifically for soccer. Lopez says though the crowds are now smaller, he likes playing at Bonney rather than Hughes.
“I like because it is crowd-specific,” he said. “Hughes, though there were 20,000 there, was hard to play on because of all the football markings and it’s a narrow field. Bonney is more like home because the crowd is closer to the field and you can hear a little more from them. It’s grass and (the field) is big.”
Sacramento Republic FC is currently in fifth place in the USL. Lopez thinks they team is playing well enough to challenge for the USL championship.
“I think there’s a change we can win it,” he said. “There is not a team that cannot be beat. When we play our best there is no team that can stay with us, except maybe Orlando, but even then I think we can beat them.”
The Orlando City FC, undefeated currently at 12-0-3, will be in Sacramento on July 17. That club currently is atop the USL with 30 points. Sacramento is eight points behind them.
“They play some road games in the next month and we play more home games so hopefully they start dropping some points and we can catch up,” Lopez said.
Both players encouraged young soccer players to stay with the sport because there are now many avenues to becoming a professional.
“The sport is really growing,” Lopez said. “Now the sport is so big, you could go through college, but there are so many academy teams. Every MLS team has an academy team now. You can be seen that way. Even in college, if you have a couple good years you can get drafted that way.”