He’d been available as a substitute last season, but this year Mario Penagos saw his soccer career take its biggest step when he found out that the Sacramento Republic FC wanted to sign him to his first pro contract.
Since then, he and his teammates have seen the USL take a long break and make adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic before only just recently starting back up again and trying to have as normal of a season as possible.
“I was really proud because I had the academy contract and I was really excited and proud.
They also were really proud of me and were really supportive of me,” Penagos said on Aug. 4 when asked about signing day and his family’s reaction.
Sac Republic, who’s been his parent club since he joined the Republic FC Academy in 2015, offered him a contract in January and Penagos, an Elk Grove resident, has done his part to make every moment count during a roller coaster season that stopped after just the first game.
“It was kind of frustrating after playing the first game and then everything pretty much got shut down,” Penagos said when asked about his reaction to the momentum shift.
As one of the newest additions to the team, Penagos’ spotlight came on March 7, the team’s first game of 2020.
“It was very exciting. It was the first game of the season. The stadium was full. I could see all of my family there,” said the 18-year-old midfielder, who estimated 40 members of his family were at the game, which was played at the team’s home field at Papa Murphy’s Park.
With the long break in the season, players found themselves not even being able to practice on their home field at one point and Penagos had to adjust.
“So our trainer was sending us homework because there was a period where we weren’t allowed to even leave our house. It slowly built up into group training with my team again,” said Penagos, who played his first game with the Republic last year against an U20 team from Club America. The team worked its way from training alone to eventually working out in groups of 10.
They played their first game since March on July 13 against Tacoma.
The season restart has seen Sacramento land in third place in the Group A USL standings at 1-1-3, with their most recent game ending in a 0-0 tie with San Diego Loyal Aug. 1.
In addition to his team maintaining a fairly steady spot in the standings, Penagos is working on reclaiming his spot as a starter.
When asked what his current goal is, the answer was simple and straightforward.
“Back into the starting lineup. I started the first game but recently I haven’t been starting. My second one would be to score a couple of goals and get a couple of assists and to contribute to the team.”
As an Academy player, Penagos started most of the games in which he played and scored 54 goals in 124 games.
With the potential to make an impact with Sac Republic as well, a healthy Penagos is looking for that next opportunity.
“That’s my challenge right now is just to keep working.”
The Sac Republic take to the road to play Portland Saturday at 7 p.m.