In front of an electric, raucous and sold out Heart Health Park, Sacramento Republic FC played host to Sporting Kansas City FC Wednesday night in a semifinal match as part of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The two teams took the field minutes after the other semifinal match of the tournament was decided with Orlando City FC taking care of New York Red Bulls 5-1.
After a scoreless draw, the match would be ultimately decided by penalty kicks, with Republic FC winning 5-4 to advance to the 107th US Open Cup Final against Orlando City SC. With the penalty shootout tied at 4-4, it was Republic FC goalkeeper Danny Vitiello saving the final penalty shot from Graham Zusi and then Republic FC captain Rodrigo Lopez sealing the victory with a firm strike.
With the win, Republic FC become just the third lower division club to knock out more than two MLS teams in one Open Cup and the first USL club to make the Final since Charleston Battery did it in 2008. Sacramento also extend their home unbeaten streak in the tournament to 12 games which is the longest active streak.
The Republic also became the first Northern California club to reach the US Open Cup Final in the tournament’s Modern Era (1995-present). Only eight Nor Cal teams in the 107-year history of the tournament have reached the Final, with the last coming in 1994 when Greek American AC (San Francisco) lifted the trophy just outside of Philadelphia. They will try to be the sixth Northern California team to win the competition.
Northern California teams in the US Open Cup Final
1962 – San Francisco Scots (Lost)
1976 – San Francisco AC (Won)
1985 – Greek American AC (Won)
1988 – Greek American AC (Lost)
1992 – San Jose Oaks (Won)
1993 – CD Mexico (Won)
1994 – Greek American AC (Won)
2022 – Sacramento Republic FC (??)
“I thought the boys gave everything and played their hearts out,” said Republic FC manager Mark Briggs. “The boys hung in there, created opportunities at times, and all that matters is that we’re in the final. Everything else is a little bit blurry at this moment to be honest.”
Republic FC punched their ticket to the semifinal following a thrilling 2-1 road victory over LA Galaxy on June 21, while Sporting Kansas City earned their way into the semifinal with a 6-0 win over Union Omaha a day later and ending their magical run in the tournament.
The match started with a bang as both sides generated solid opportunities in the first five minutes. Following the flurry of early activity, Sporting Kansas City held the majority of the possession for the next 20 minutes, and created multiple chances to go ahead early. Republic FC eventually settled into the match creating opportunities of their own over the final 25 minutes, including a chance in the 40th minute when a series of shots and headers bounced in and around the front of goal, but the threat was ultimately fended off.
In the second half, Republic FC mustered their best chance in the 62th minute, when a cross from Rodrigo Lopez wasn’t cleared well by Sporting Kansas City. The ball popped right out in front of goal, but Republic FC’s midfielder Keko Gontan’s right footed blast was cleared brilliantly by Sporting goalkeeper John Pulskamp to keep the match scoreless.
In the first 15 minutes of extra time, Kansas City’s Danny Salloi received a lovely through ball and his shot violently hit the crossbar. The subsequent rebound would go just over the crossbar. Sporting would link up other dangerous chances in extra time, but Vitiello made save after save, like he had been doing all match, to keep his team in it and earning Man of the Match honors.
After neither team could find a goal in extra time, the drama continued into the penalty kick shootout.
After both teams converted their first two attempts, William Agada of Sporting KC stepped up to begin Round 3. Vitiello dove to his right to save Agada’s attempt, but the referee ordered Agada to re-take it as they ruled that Vitiello had come off his line too early. Agada would take advantage of the second chance by scoring and then celebrated with an acrobatic backflip which drew loud boos from the partisan crowd.
After both teams traded goals, Sporting was up 4-3 when Sacramento’s Maalique Foster stepped up to the spot. The Jamaican, in a clutch situation, stunned the crowd by chipping the ball ever so lightly right down the middle, panenka-style. The goalkeeper dove to his right and was helpless to stop it. Foster answered Agada’s gymnastics routine by doing a backflip of his own.
Moments later, U.S. international Graham Zusi stepped up to begin Round 5 and Vitiello guessed correctly by diving to his left giving Sacramento’s Rodrigo Lopez, the tournament’s co-leading scorer, a chance to send them to the championship game. The captain would not miss and the sold-out stadium erupted.
Following the match, Vitiello reflected on what this win meant to him and his teammates.
“To be playing for such a prestigious club like Sacramento right now, it means the world to me,” said Vitiello. “This group is unbelievable, what we’ve achieved in such a short time together, and to be able to put out performances like we did tonight … it’s unreal for such amazing fans who did their job tonight and came out with all they did.”
The talk prior to the match was that this was the biggest game in Republic FC history. Those who witnessed the Miracle at Bonney in 2014, which propelled the Republic into the USL Final, believe that was the biggest game in club history. Few would argue Wednesday night’s Semifinal will replace the ‘Miracle’ as the club’s greatest moment.
Only one non-MLS team has won the US Open Cup in the tournament’s Modern Era. Now, Sacramento is one win away from joining the 1999 Rochester Raging Rhinos in the record books. Republic FC advance to the Final where they will play on the road against Major League Soccer’s Orlando City SC on Sept. 7. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.