Galaxy hosts Sacramento Republic in U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals

Imagine a duffer beating a PGA Tour player at the local Pro-Am. Or a semi-pro baseball team taking on the New York Yankees.

These are the scenarios for which the US Open Cup, the country’s oldest national soccer competition, was created.

“That’s kind of the beauty and bane of the US Open Cup,” said Galaxy coach Greg Vanney. “When lower division teams play what is arguably the biggest game of their season or career or whatever, they will certainly be looking for the best version of themselves that day. And nothing else will matter.”

National cup competitions around the world are based on the same David vs. Goliath structure, with amateur, semi-pro and top-pro teams competing for the same prize.

On Tuesday, in the quarterfinals of the tournament at Dignity Health Sports Park, Vanney will manage Goliath – five-time MLS champion Galaxy, the most successful professional team in US history – against Sacramento Republic, who failed to make it past the quarterfinals of the playoffs of the second-tier USL championship for eight years and has not had a winning record for the past three seasons.

But David – aka the Republic – will show up anyway, slingshot in hand.

“Anything,” said Todd Dunivant, Sacramento’s president and general manager, “can happen on any given day.

Especially since more than just victory or defeat is at stake for the republic. Defeating the mighty galaxy would prove what the people of Sacramento have long believed: that the city deserves to be in the MLS.

In fact, three years ago, with the financial backing of billionaire businessman Ron Burkle, Republic earned a spot in the MLS extension that would have seen them into the league this season. But when Burkle abruptly pulled out of the deal 16 months ago, MLS rescinded its offer and Sacramento has been in limbo ever since, never really giving up on MLS but no clear path to get there either.

“We’re not going to ask our players to say, ‘Hey, go and prove we’re an MLS club by beating all these MLS teams,'” Dunivant said. “We see it as an opportunity to really measure ourselves against the best.”

Galaxy manager Greg Vanney watches the first half of the team's game against Charlotte FC.

Galaxy manager Greg Vanney watches the first half of the team’s game against Charlotte FC on March 5 in Charlotte, NC.

(Jacob Kupfermann/Associated Press)

After all, the team has already beaten MLS teams and upset Real Salt Lake, Seattle and San Jose in US Open Cup play since 2017. But a victory down the road across the Galaxy would be something special, both for Sacramento and Dunivant who, in nine seasons as a Galaxy defender, won four MLS titles and the 2005 US Open Cup.

Since then, the team has only reached the final of the tournament once.

“It’s a special opportunity. We’ve never played the Galaxy in a real game at their stadium,” Dunivant said. “It’s a special place for me.”

For Vanney, making it in the Open Cup for the first time, the tournament presents an opportunity to lift a trophy, something the Galaxy hasn’t done in eight years, a franchise-long drought.

“The mentality we want to build in the galaxy is that playing for trophies is kind of what we do,” he said. “You come to the galaxy because you play for championships.”

The Republic is one of two non-MLS teams in the last eight of the Open Cup. Union Omaha, which plays in the third-tier USL League One, made it to the quarterfinals by beating Minnesota United. It meets Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday.

But both teams are confronted with long chances going forward. Since entering the tournament in 1996, MLS has failed to win the Open Cup only once, in 1999 when the Rochester Raging Rhinos won from the second tier A League. That puts the pressure squarely on Tuesday’s shoulders for the galaxy set to win.

“There is no question that we will be heavy underdogs,” said Dunivant. We understand that, accept that. That’s the beauty of our sport and the beauty of a cup tournament.

“We play with house money.” Galaxy hosts Sacramento Republic in U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals

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