Sac Republic FC does it again in Open Cup: 'Is this really happening?'

Sacramento Republic FC, the team whose expansion move to MLS fell apart a year and half ago, is taking it out on MLS teams in the U.S. Open Cup.

For the third straight round, the USL Championship team beat an MLS opponent, advancing to the 2022 Open Cup final.

After the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy, Open Cup winner in 2001 and 2005, Republic FC knocked off Sporting KC, winner in 2004, 2012, 2015 and 2017, in the semifinals.

Republic FC won 5-4, in a shootout after 120 minutes of action failed to produce a goal.

Tickets for the semifinal sold out in less than two hours at 11.500-seat Heart Health Park on the grounds of the Cal Expo, where the California State Fair is being held next door for the first time since 2019. Sacramento fans certainly got their money's worth.

Keeper Danny Vitiello faced 31 shots from Sporting KC and made eight saves. His teammates helped out, blocking 14 shots. He was the hero in the shootout with a stop on Graham Zusi, the lone holdover from Sporting KC's last Open Cup championship team in 2014, in the fifth round.

Vitiello saved William Agada's attempt in the third round, but the Nigerian's stutter step drew him off his line before the shot was taken, and the kick was retaken and converted.

In the fourth round, Sporting KC's Felipe Hernandez picked up a yellow card for dissent after yelling at Vitiello following his penalty kick. Maalique Foster then stepped up for Sacramento and beat Sporting KC keeper John Pulskamp with a Panenka down the middle that sent gasps through the home crowd.

In his post-game interview with ESPN+, the Jamaican said he needed to show Hernandez "he alone could not show off."

Republic FC coach Mark Briggs said he couldn't watch.

"I was looking at the ground," he said afterwards, "and all I could hear was the emotion of the stadium and the fans, so all I heard was a big gasp. I thought he'd missed. But then the crowd erupted when he finally hit the net. I still haven't seen it, but that's my Maalique. You need characters in teams and Maalique is a character.  And to do what he did in that moment shows the quality and confidence he has in his own ability."

Briggs left it up to Rodrigo Lopez to make the deciding penalty kick in the fifth round. Lopez, who starred on Republic FC's championship team when it won the USL title in 2014, its first season, said after the win over the Galaxy in the quarterfinals that MLS didn't want Sacramento to win.

"If you're the MLS, you have to look at Sacramento," he said following the 2-1 win in Carson. "You have to look at our fanbase and our city."

Briggs said it's irrelevant what happened last year when MLS pulled the plug on the 2023 Sacramento expansion team after lead investor Ron Burkle backed out of the deal, citing the Covid-19 pandemic as a reason for his withdrawal.

"We can't control what happens to the future of the club," said Briggs. "We can't control whether we are in MLS or whether we're in USL. Right now, that's for other people to decide. We have a group of players that are representing this club, that are representing this city, that are representing this badge, and they're doing it with pride and they're doing it with passion."

Vitiello, who grew up on Long Island and played at the University of Albany, joined Republic FC in 2022 after starting for Pittsburgh in the USL Championship in the last two months of 2020 and all of 2021.

"I came to this organization knowing that it's a prestigious organization in this league," he said. "MLS was never even a thought when I made the decision to come here. The organization is just incredible."

Sacramento is just the third lower division team to beat three MLS teams in a single Open Cup campaign after the Rochester Rhinos, the last non-MLS team to win the Open Cup in 1999, and Minnesota Thunder in 2005. Republic FC has a chance to beat a fourth MLS team on Sept. 7 when it plays at Orlando City in the final.

"This is the epitome," added Briggs. "This is the biggest night of my coaching career. And then to be going to Orlando, playing a final with a [Concacaf] Champions League spot at stake. Is this really happening? Fortunately for us, it's reality."

Photos: Sacramento Republic FC

5 comments about "Sac Republic FC does it again in Open Cup: 'Is this really happening?'".
  1. humble 1, July 28, 2022 at 9:56 a.m.

    Great story.  USL brand benefiting in a big way here.  Well done.

  2. Valerie Metzler, July 28, 2022 at 10:14 a.m.

    I KNEW I should have watched the whole game!

  3. Eric Jensen, July 28, 2022 at 11:14 a.m.

    sacramento strong.

  4. humble 1, July 28, 2022 at 7:12 p.m.

    The MLS side forgot that you have to earn you victory in tournaments- they are not given. The decicive sequence in the penalty shootout began with young Hernandez taunting the crowd after he made his pen which put KCM up by 1, but going first, so the
    absolute wrong time to taunt, was followed by Foster's nasty Panenka which tied it again and which he celebrated with an olympic quality back flip, was follewed by a grim faced Zusi slowly walking up and taking a very savable shot which the keep did save, and which gave SAC the chance to win on their 5th and final shot which was clinically taken by Lopez amd followed by a proper and appropriate team staff and stadium celebration excepting the stunned KCM players and staff.  Not the most followed tournament but right up there with best in the frantic closing moments and the penatly shootout.  Thank you ESPN+   

  5. schultz rockne replied, August 4, 2022 at 2:58 p.m. thank you, Disney-Plus. These matches should be available for everybody. Most folks pay for Disney and their multiple-multiple sports networks within their cable packages. No reason we fans of the world's game should be paying extra-extra...suddenly, all these matches are available? They should've pretended that they really support our sport--apart from the 'lucrative' big, big tournaments--and created an all-footie channel long ago. 

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