Sacramento Republic FC primed for America’s Most Important Soccer Competition

Sacramento Republic FC players overpower goalkeeper Danny Vitiello after their 2-1 win over LA Galaxy sends the team through to the US Open Cup semi-finals. (Photo by Matthew Legere/Cronkite News)

CARSON, Calif. — Goaltender Danny Vitiello leapt into the air to fend off a long shot attempt. He lands on his back, fist raised, just at the final whistle. Sacramento Republic FC players crumbled. They were exhausted after an intense defensive effort, but that reaction was obviously more than fatigue.

“Frankly, we are at a loss for words,” Republic FC coach Mark Briggs said after the game.

Sacramento Republic FC had just beaten LA Galaxy 2-1 at Dignity Health Sports Park, the Galaxy’s home stadium. In doing so, he qualified for the semi-finals of the 2022 US Open Cup for the first time in team history. It was the first time since 2017 that a non-MLS side had made it this far in the tournament.

MLS is widely regarded as the pinnacle of football in the United States, with the MLS Cup being the greatest trophy a team from this country can win.

But the faces of the Sacramento players, arms wrapped around each other as they celebrated in front of a section of ecstatic visitors, say otherwise.

The US Open Cup, in terms of the overall growth of the sport in the United States, is the most important football competition in the country. While the MLS Cup Final may have the stars, the big stadiums and the name recognition, this competition, which has run almost continuously since 1914, has something more.

Hope and exposure.

“A team like Sacramento comes to LA Galaxy Stadium, and it’s arguably their biggest game of the season,” LA Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said.

Briggs believes that “to get a result against arguably the biggest club in this country…it’s an incredible achievement.”

The US Open Cup is the oldest soccer competition in the United States. Unlike the MLS Cup playoffs, the competition is open to teams from all leagues in the United States, even amateur teams.

It is structured in the same way as competitions in European countries. American fans are probably most familiar with the FA Cup and the EFL Cup, contested annually in England between Premier League sides down to the 10th ranked tier. More than 700 teams can compete each year in these competitions.

In the United States, the number of teams competing is around 100, less than in England, but the principle is the same. Theoretically, a team from the lowest division in the country can race and win it all.

“I think that’s kind of the beauty of the event,” Vanney said.

In both countries, the league’s top teams have dominated the competition for more than 30 years. This only makes the races of the Sacramento Republic and the recently eliminated Omaha Union this year more remarkable.

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Union Omaha plays in the USL League 1, the nation’s third league, and advanced to the quarter-finals against Sporting Kansas City of MLS. Sacramento Republic plays in the USL Championship, the number two league, and will now face Kansas City in the semifinals.

“All over the world there are Cup competitions,” Vanney said. “In every league in the world, in every country in the world. And there are always upheavals and counterfeits.

The 2022 US Open Cup competition has been ideal for the exposure of smaller clubs. The competition was last held in 2019. The past two years have seen the competition canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, halting 106 consecutive years of play.

With the excitement of returning to competition, smaller clubs that are succeeding away have had opportunities to be even more exposed than usual.

“When you see these upsets, many of which have happened this season, I think that’s the beauty of competition,” Vanney said.

Sacramento Republic FC has now gone through two MLS clubs: San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy. Before them, he faced off in a matchup with fellow USL Western Conference Championship side Phoenix Rising FC.

With a chance to play MLS clubs on the horizon, both teams gave it their all, with Sacramento eventually winning 2-0.

For these smaller clubs, victories mean so much more. Just like the losses. Playing in MLS clubs means a spot on national television. The team that wins the US Open Cup gets one of the four slots awarded to the United States in the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Football) Champions League. The winner of the Champions League plays in the FIFA Club World Cup.

“(The smaller clubs) are going to come with a different level of intensity, focus,” Vanney said.

Along with the opportunities to play bigger and bigger clubs on higher profile television networks, there are also financial incentives for smaller clubs to succeed.

The winner of the US Open Cup receives $300,000 in prize money. For the second, the prize is $100,000 and the teams from each lower league with the best result receive $25,000.

After coming close to these huge boosts for their club, Republic FC fans were overjoyed.

“The fans tonight were electric,” Briggs said after the LA Galaxy game. “From the first minute to the 95th minute, they never stopped singing.”

It’s fair to say that Sacamento’s win over LA Galaxy came as a surprise. Although not a favorite for the title at the moment, Galaxy are still one of the most successful clubs in the country, having won the US Open Cup twice.

The Galaxy are almost expected to play for a trophy every year due to their history. It is impossible to ignore this fact. Even when the final whistle sounded, the Sacramento celebrations were set against the backdrop by the monuments of all the Galaxy trophies in the stadium’s rafters.

“LA Galaxy, the club, the history, it’s a club that wins a lot of titles,” said Galaxy defender Kelvin Leerdam. “So is that what you want.”

That’s not to say Sacramento Republic FC aren’t a successful club, they won the USL Cup in 2014. But the LA Galaxy will almost never lose in the history department.

Sacramento Republic FC was originally slated to play in MLS this summer, but its already approved offer has been put on “indefinite hiatus” in 2021. After all that, being able to play so many games against the league’s top teams is huge for the potential of the club. growth.

“It shows that we are a football club that can compete with the elite clubs in this country,” Briggs said.

Whether the Sacramento Republic ever had the chance to play in MLS, they proved they could compete with them. They would not be moved.

They now have a shot at being the first USL Championship team to make the US Open Cup Final since Charleston Battery 2008. They are also trying to become the first non-MLS team to win the Cup since Rochester New York. FC from 1999, then known as Rochester Rinos.

Regardless of the outcome, the tournament did its job. This USL Championship team has been on display thanks to its remarkable run. Monetarily and culturally, the future looks bright.

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