Imagine a duffer beating a PGA Tour player at the local pro-am. Or a semi-pro baseball team beating the New York Yankees.
These are the kinds of scenarios the US Open Cup, the nation’s oldest domestic soccer competition, was designed to generate.
“It’s kind of the beauty and the curse of the US Open Cup,” Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said. “When lower division teams are playing arguably their biggest game of their season or career or whatever, they are definitely going to be looking for the best version of themselves that day. And nothing else will matter.
National Cup competitions around the world are modeled on the same David vs. Goliath structure, with top amateur, semi-professional and professional teams competing for the same prize.
In the tournament’s quarterfinals at Dignity Health Sports Park on Tuesday, Vanney will lead Goliath — the five-time MLS Galaxy champion, the winningest professional team in US history — against the Sacramento Republic, who won’t hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals of the second-tier USL Championship playoffs in eight years and hasn’t had a winning record in the past three seasons.
But David – aka the Republic – will show up, slingshot in hand, all the same.
“Anything,” Sacramento President and CEO Todd Dunivant said, “can happen on any given day.
Especially since there is not only winning or losing at stake for the Republic. Beating the mighty Galaxy would prove what the people of Sacramento have long believed: that the city deserves to be in MLS.
In fact, three years ago the Republic, with the financial backing of billionaire businessman Ron Burkle, secured an MLS expansion spot which would have seen him join the league this season. But when Burkle abruptly pulled out of the deal 16 months ago, MLS rescinded his offer and Sacramento has been stuck in limbo ever since, never really giving up on MLS but with no clear path to get there either. .
“We’re not going to put this on our players to say, ‘Hey, go prove we’re an MLS club by beating all these MLS teams,'” Dunivant said. “We think this is an opportunity to really test ourselves against the best.”
The team, after all, have beaten MLS sides before, upsetting Real Salt Lake, Seattle and San Jose in the US Open Cup since 2017. But a road win over the Galaxy would be something. moreover, both for Sacramento and for Dunivant who, in nine seasons as a Galaxy defender, won four MLS titles and the 2005 US Open Cup.
The team has only been back in the tournament finals once since.
“This is a special opportunity. We have never faced the Galaxy in their stadium in a real game,” Dunivant said. “It’s a special place for me.”
For Vanney, managing the Open Cup for the first time, the tournament offers an opportunity to win a trophy, something the Galaxy have not done in eight years of a long-running drought.
“The mentality that we want to build in the Galaxy is that playing for trophies is kind of what we do,” he said. “You come to the Galaxy because you play for championships.”
The Republic are one of two non-MLS teams in the Open Cup last eight. Union Omaha, who play in the third-tier USL League One, advanced to the quarter-finals by defeating Minnesota United. He will meet Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday.
Still, both teams face long chances to advance. Since MLS entered the tournament in 1996, they have only won the Open Cup once, in 1999, when the second-tier League A Rochester Raging Rhinos prevailed. That puts the pressure Tuesday squarely on the shoulders of the Galaxy, who are expected to win.
“There’s no doubt that we’re going to be heavy underdogs,” Dunivant said. We understand that, accept that. That’s the beauty of our sport and the beauty of a Cup tournament.
“We are playing with house money.”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.