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Sacramento Republic scores late goal to stun Galaxy in U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal

Galaxy forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez congratulates midfielder Efraín Álvarez during a match.
(Jacob Kupferman / Associated Press)

The Sacramento Republic FC was supposed to be playing 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 a $27.2-million funding package for a new soccer-specific stadium that same year.

But billionaire businessman Ronald Burkle, the team’s largest financial backer, spoke loudest 16 months ago when he decided to take his checkbook and go home, citing issues with the stadium project. That left the franchise stuck in limbo between an MLS spot it could no longer afford and the USL Championship, a second-tier league the city believed it had outgrown.

For the Republic’s players, that has made this year’s U.S. Open Cup more a referendum than a tournament, a proving ground to show they belong in MLS. It was a point they made clearly Tuesday when they stunned the Galaxy 2-1 in a tournament quarterfinal at Dignity Health Sports Park.

“To get a result against arguably the biggest club in the country in their stadium is something that will live in our players’ memories,” Sacramento coach Mark Briggs said.

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“It’s what dreams are made of. It’s what this tournament is all about.”

The winning goal, in the 70th minute, was certainly special, with midfielder Luis Felipe, surrounded by nothing but space, pulling up about 40 yards from the Galaxy goal and bouncing a low left-footed shot by goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann at the far post.

What the shot lacked in style it more than made up for in substance by giving Sacramento its second straight Open Cup win over an MLS team, following last month’s victory over the San Jose Earthquakes. The Republic, in fact, is the first USL club to beat two MLS teams in the same tournament since FC Cincinnati in 2017.

Cincinnati joined MLS two seasons later.

Cincinnati was also the last USL team to make the Open Cup’s final four, a feat Sacramento will match when it plays the winner of Wednesday’s Sporting Kansas City-Union Omaha quarterfinal next month.

However Tuesday’s win was a signature victory of its own because of who it came against as much as for what it accomplished.

The first U.S. World Cup gave birth to MLS and the league’s success led to the second U.S. World Cup.

Although the Galaxy haven’t won a trophy since 2014, they remain the most successful franchise in MLS history. The Republic, meanwhile, hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals of the second-tier USL Championship playoffs in eight years.

None of that mattered Tuesday.

“We were the best team. We deserved to win the game,” Briggs said. “It shows that we’re a football club that can compete with the elite clubs in this country.

“Regarding MLS, that’s for people to discuss and figure out. I’m just focused on the group that we have here and I’m so proud of the group we have here and the result that we’ve achieved tonight.”

Sacramento took an early lead on Rodrigo López’s goal in the fourth minute, but the Galaxy were gifted the equalizer 14 minutes later when Republic defender Conor Donovan accidentally headed in an Efraín Álvarez corner kick.

The score stayed that way until Felipe, who had a brief MLS trial with San Jose, bounced his three-hop shot 11 minutes past a surprised Klinsmann. Eleven minutes earlier Galaxy coach Greg Vanney had emptied his bench, bringing on Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Víctor Vázquez and Julián Araujo.

Sacramento keeper Danny Vitiello, however, was outstanding, especially in the late going when the desperate Galaxy peppered the Sacramento net.

When the final whistle sounded, Vitiello’s jubilant teammates buried him beneath a dogpile in front of the goal before heading to the south grandstands to celebrate with their supporters.

The Galaxy were greeted with boos when they reached their supporters in the Victoria Block on the stadium’s north end.


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