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’s US Open Cup more of a referendum than a tournament, a testing ground to show they belong in MLS. It’s a point they made clear on Tuesday when they stunned the Galaxy 2-1 in the quarter-finals of the tournament at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“Getting a result against arguably the biggest club in the country at home is something that will live on in the memory of our players,” said Sacramento coach Mark Briggs.
“That’s what dreams are made of. This is the goal of this tournament. »
The winning goal, in the 70th minute, was certainly special, with midfielder Luis Felipe, surrounded by nothing but space, going around 40 yards from the Galaxy goal and bouncing a low footed shot left from goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann at the far post.
What the shot lacked in style, it more than made up for in substance, giving Sacramento its second straight Open Cup win against an MLS team, following last month’s victory over the San Jose Earthquakes. The Republic, in fact, are the first USL club to beat two MLS teams in the same tournament since FC Cincinnati in 2017.
Cincinnati joined MLS three seasons later.
Cincinnati was also the last USL team to advance to the Open Cup semifinals, a feat Sacramento will match when they face the winner of Wednesday’s Sporting Kansas City-Union Omaha quarterfinal next month.
However, Tuesday’s victory was a signature victory in itself because of who he opposed as much as what he 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.
None of that mattered on Tuesday.
“We were the best team. We deserved to win the game,” Briggs said. “It shows that we are a football club capable of competing with the elite clubs of this country.
“When it comes to MLS, it’s up to people to discuss and understand. I’m just focused on the squad we have here and I’m so proud of the squad we have here and the result we got tonight. .
Sacramento took an early lead on Rodrigo López’s fourth-minute goal, but the Galaxy equalized 14 minutes later when Republic defender Conor Donovan accidentally headed in an Efraín Álvarez corner.
The score stayed that way until Felipe, who had a brief MLS tryout with San Jose, rebounded his three-jump shot 11 minutes after a startled Klinsmann. Eleven minutes earlier, Galaxy coach Greg Vanney emptied his bench, bringing in Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Víctor Vázquez and Julián Araujo.
Sacramento keeper Danny Vitiello was outstanding, however, especially late in the game when the desperate Galaxy peppered the Sacramento net.
When the final whistle sounded, Vitiello’s jubilant teammates buried him under a dogpile in front of goal before heading to the south stands to celebrate with their supporters.
The Galaxy were greeted with boos as they joined their supporters in the Victoria Block at the north end of the stadium.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.