Sacramento Republic stuns Galaxy in U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal

Sacramento Republic FC was due to play in MLS this summer.

That’s what the league said when it approved Sacramento as an expansion franchise in 2019, and that’s what the city council said when it approved a $27.2 million funding package for a new soccer-specific stadium that same year.

But billionaire businessman Ronald Burkle, the team’s biggest financier, spoke the loudest 16 months ago when he decided to take his checkbook and go home, citing problems with the stadium project. That left the franchise caught between an MLS spot it could no longer afford and the USL championship, a sophomore league the city believed had outgrown it.

For Republic players, that has made this year’s US Open Cup more of a referendum than a tournament, a testing ground to show they belong in the MLS. It was a point they made clear on Tuesday when they stunned the Galaxy 2-1 in a tournament quarterfinals at Dignity Health Sports Park.

“To get a result against what is arguably the greatest club in the country in your stadium will be remembered by our players,” said Sacramento coach Mark Briggs.

“This is what dreams are made of. That’s what this tournament is about.”

The 70th-minute winner was certainly something special as midfielder Luis Felipe, surrounded by nothing but space, pulled up about 40 yards from Galaxy’s goal and deflected a low left-footed shot from goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann at the far post.

What the shot lacked in style, it more than made up for by giving Sacramento its second straight Open Cup win against an MLS team, following last month’s win over the San Jose Earthquakes. In fact, The Republic has become the first USL club to defeat two MLS teams in the same tournament since FC Cincinnati in 2017.

Cincinnati switched to MLS two seasons later.

Cincinnati was also the last USL team to make the last four of the Open Cup, a feat Sacramento will match when they face next month’s quarterfinal winner Sporting Kansas City against Union Omaha on Wednesday.

However, Tuesday’s win was a win in its own right, both because of the opponents and what he achieved.

Although the Galaxy hasn’t won a trophy since 2014, it remains the most successful franchise in MLS history. The Republic, meanwhile, have not made it past the quarterfinals of the playoffs of the second-tier USL championship in eight years.

None of that mattered on Tuesday.

“We were the best team. We deservedly won the game,” said Briggs. “It shows that we are a football club that can keep up with the elite clubs in this country.

“In terms of MLS, people need to discuss it and find out. I’m just concentrating on the group we have here and I’m so proud of the group we have here and the result we got tonight.”

Sacramento took an early lead in the fourth minute through a Rodrigo López goal, but Galaxy equalized 14 minutes later when Republican defender Conor Donovan accidentally headed an Efraín Álvarez corner.

The score stayed that way until Felipe, who had a short MLS test with San Jose, ricocheted his three-hop shot past a surprised Klinsmann 11 minutes into the game. Eleven minutes earlier, Galaxy coach Greg Vanney had emptied his bench, replacing Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Víctor Vázquez and Julián Araujo.

However, Sacramento keeper Danny Vitiello excelled, especially in the late stages as the desperate Galaxy peppered Sacramento’s net.

When the final whistle blew, Vitiello’s jubilant teammates buried him under a dog poo in front of goal before heading to the South Stands to celebrate with their fans.

The Galaxy were greeted with boos as they reached their fans in the Victoria Block at the north end of the stadium. Sacramento Republic stuns Galaxy in U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal

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