Sacramento Republic stuns Galaxy in US Open Cup quarter-finals

The Sacramento Republic FC was supposed 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 $27.2 million in funding for a new football-specific stadium the same year.

But billionaire businessman Ronald Burkle, the team’s biggest backer, spoke the loudest 16 months ago when he decided to grab his checkbook and go home, citing problems with the stadium project. This left the franchise stuck in limbo between a spot in MLS it could no longer afford and the USL Championship, a second-tier league the city believed had passed.

For Republic players, it made this year US Open Cup more a referendum than a tournament, a proving ground to show they belong in MLS. This is a point they made very clear on Tuesday when they stunned the Galaxy 2-1 in a tournament quarter-final at Dignity Health Sports Park.

“This is another opportunity for our players and our club to really show who they are and what they do,” said Todd Dunivant, president and chief executive of the Republic, who won the MLS Cup four times with the galaxy. “On a domestic stage, with only eight teams remaining in the tournament, it’s special for our club and special for our players.”

The winning goal, in the 70th minute, was certainly special, with midfielder Luis Felipe, surrounded by nothing but space, stopping about 40 yards from The Galaxy goal and rebounds a low left-footed shot from goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann at the far post.

Special too, Sacramento’s second consecutive Open Cup victory against an MLS team, following last month’s victory over the San Jose Earthquakes, and its fourth against a top-tier opposing team in its last four appearances in the tournament.

The Republic are the first USL club to beat two MLS teams in the same tournament since FC Cincinnati in 2017. Cincinnati was also the last USL team to make the Open Cup final four , a feat Sacramento will match when they face Wednesday’s winner Sporting. Quarterfinal Kansas City-Union Omaha next month.

However, Tuesday’s victory was a signature win in itself because of who she came up against as much as what she accomplished. Although the Galaxy haven’t won a trophy since 2014, they remain the most successful franchise in MLS history.

The Republic, meanwhile, haven’t made it past the quarterfinals of the second-tier USL Championship playoffs in eight years.

“The beauty of a Cup tournament is that anything can happen any day,” Dunivant said. “That’s what our players live for. That’s why they play this game.

After Sacramento took an early lead on Rodrigo López’s fourth-minute goal, the Galaxy were given the equalizer when Republic defender Conor Donovan accidentally headed in an Efraín Álvarez corner.

Although some MLS coaches see the Open Cup as an unwanted intrusion into the MLS schedule, Galaxy coach Greg Vanney has shown how seriously he takes it by bringing out regulars Javier “Chicharito “Hernández, Víctor Vázquez and Julián Araujo from the bench at the start of the season. Second part.

The high stakes of this bet were evident in Hernández’s first minutes on the court, first when his close-range shot – which would have put the Galaxy in front – was stopped by Sacramento keeper Danny Vitiello, and later when two physical tackles left the field. Galaxy writhing on the ground in pain.

What the changes didn’t do was tip the game in favor of the Galaxy, with Felipe, who had a brief MLS try with San Jose, scoring the game-winning goal 11 minutes after Vanney made the substitutions. .

Vitiello, meanwhile, was outstanding, especially late on when the desperate Galaxy peppered the Sacramento net in search of the tying goal.

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