SACRAMENTO REPUBLIC FC

Sacramento Republic Beat Sporting KC In Penalty Thriller, Advance To U.S. Open Cup Final

Jul 28, 2022, 5:30 AM | Updated: 8:43 am
Sacramento Republic FC...
Sacramento Republic FC

The Sacramento Republic pulled off another “cupset” at Heart Health Park Wednesday night, taking down Sporting Kansas City, 5-4 on penalties, to advance to the U.S. Open Cup Finals.

The Republic is the first non-MLS team to make the competition’s final since 2008, a moment that will go down in Sacramento history for years to come.

The two sides exchanged blows in the first 90 minutes as the Republic came close a few times throughout the match, even as early as the third minute when a broken down play led to Douglas Martinez on the ball, passing it into the box as wingback Jack Gurr saw his attempt go over the bar. The Republic took 13 shots with only two on target all night.

Sporting KC tried to break through as well, mustering up 31 shots and 12 corners when the match was over. Captain Johnny Russell was the focal point of the Wizards’ offense, driving past defenders throughout the match, coming close with his passing and finishing, but it wasn’t enough to break the backline of Sacramento.

Moving into extra time, SKC had their best chance in the 98th minute when a great team run saw a Wizard forward on goal, striking the ball off the crossbar before centre-back Dan Casey cleared it away. Kansas City dominated in the extra 30 minutes, taking the match to the Indomitable Club, but once again, it wasn’t enough to come out in front.

With the match deadlocked after 120 minutes, it was time for penalties.

As 12,000 anxious Sacramento fans watched on, Sporting KC went first, as Russell slotted his kick away in the right corner of the net. Both sides scored their following penalties until Graham Zusi stepped up in the number five spot. Sending his shot to the right of the goal, keeper Danny Vitiello stretched out to make the fantastic save, sending Heart Health Park into a frenzy. With the advantage in hand, captain Rodrigo “RoRo” López stepped up and placed his kick down the middle, sending HHP into hysterics once again.

Game. Set. Match.

Sacramento Republic FC

It’s always tricky to put your best penalty taker in the number five spot, given he may not have a chance if the previous four don’t go in. Regardless, head coach Mark Briggs made it known postgame, that he wouldn’t have anyone else in that moment.

“The answer’s no. You know, I think you’re right in the penalties there. And RoRo was always going to be number five. I think it was written in the stars tonight, we knew that Danny would save one.” Briggs said. “And we knew if we got the opportunity, RoRo would step up. And obviously RoRo did what RoRo does. Wrote himself into Sacramento history again. Fantastic for him. Fantastic for the club. Just unbelievable.”

The Republic were tremendous defensively all night. The main reason was Vitiello, coming up big with eight saves, not including the game-winning penalty stop on Sporting’s Graham Zusi.

After the match, the Sacramento goalie was overcome with emotions,  reflecting back on his career and what this victory means to him and the team as a whole.

“I mean, for my career to start two years ago, and to be playing for such a prestigious club, like Sacramento right now, I mean, [it] means the world to me,” Vitiello stated. “This group, it’s unbelievable what we’ve achieved in such short time together. I mean, we’ve had five guys come back from last year’s group, and to be able to put up performances like we did tonight. It’s unreal for such amazing fans who did their job tonight and came out with all they did.”

Sacramento’s backline have been consistent all season but tonight they were superb in complement to Vitiello. A trio of Dan Casey, Conor Donovan and Lee Desmond put their bodies on the life all night, making great recoveries and blocks to keep the game level.

While Briggs had to applaud his defensive unit, no one got more praise than his keeper, seeing him as the catalyst behind the team’s resilient performance tonight.

Sacramento Republic FC

“I’ve given them all the accolades, they continue to produce, they continue to perform, and they’re gonna get the accolades for the defensive performances. But there’s somebody behind them, sat next to me, who also supports that defense,” Briggs said, looking at Vitiello. “So yes, those three guys have done well, but this is a team game, and all 11 players defended tonight and that’s why we kept the ball out of the goal. But this guy stepped up in critical moments. I think one-on-one with Johnny Russell two or three times, and Danny Vitiello came out on top. So yes, the three boys are great, but this is a team sport and the whole group defended well tonight.”

Additionally, Mark and Danny praised the sold-out crowd as they were the driving force for the Quails tonight, celebrating with the Tower Bridge Battalion after the match.

“It was amazing, amazing. Something that you’ll never forget. I thought the Tower Bridge Battalion and the whole stadium tonight was amazing. They gave us moments when we’re struggling. They pushed us through and they cheered us on. And that’s what this club is all about, it’s one big family. And tonight, the family pulled together, helped one another, supporting one another, and now we’re in the Open Cup final because of that,” Briggs said.

Sacramento Republic FC

A win in the cup final would also see the Republic clinch a spot in the Concacaf Champions League, a feat that Briggs and his team are pinching themselves over currently. But with that comes reality as the club understands that the job isn’t finished and there’s still 90 minutes of football to be played.

“This is the biggest night of my coaching career and then to be going to Orlando to play in a final with a Champions League spot at stake. You know, you have to, like ‘is this really happening?'” Briggs said with a big grin. “But fortunately for us it is, it’s reality. We’re 90 minutes away from a trophy and a Champions League berth. So it’s a massive accolade, a massive night and something that’ll long live in the memory.

“But we aren’t done. We’ve said in the last round, we’re not in this competition just to make up the numbers. We’re in this competition because we want to win it. And now we’ve put ourselves in a position to go and win it.”

Sacramento and the team will have to wait until September 7th when the Indomitable Club travel to Florida to take on Orlando City SC in the cup final. A match that all of the 916, and the national soccer community, will be watching.

 

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