Sacramento Republic suffer last-second heartbreaker to end 2023 campaign

Nov 4, 2023, 10:30 PM | Updated: 10:34 pm

Sacramento Republic FC...

Sacramento Republic FC

With 10 minutes remaining, the Sacramento Republic found themselves on the verge of a championship final berth. And then it all came crashing down.

Sacramento Republic FC suffered a crushing loss in the USL Championship western conference final, allowing two goals in the second half to lose, 2-1, to Phoenix Rising. The Indomitable Club crash out of the playoffs, with their 2023 season now over.

Sacramento had played a good match up until the 80th minute, taking a lead in the first half.

After 30 minutes of hard-nosed defensive soccer, the Quails found their breakthrough in the 31st minute. Securing the ball in the opposition’s side off the field, Sacramento went on a break with a few nice touch passes before midfielder Nick Ross found forward Russell Cicerone. Taking the ball into the 18-yard-box, the forward was able to fire a strike into the bottom right corner, going past Rising goalkeeper Rocco Rios Novo to take the lead.

1-0 to the Republic the first half.

Sacramento was almost able to convert another chance right after scoring, but this time Phoenix’s keeper was able to secure the strike from outside the box. The home side had another chance on goal late in the first half, with midfield Keko Gontan working down the left flank. His shot was on target as well, headed away by a Rising defender to close out the half.

1-0 to Sacramento at the break.

The second half picked up where The Republic left off, creating chances early. But after those initial shots on goal, the visitors settled in a bit.

To make matters worse, Sacramento started falling victim of the injury bug. Midfielders Luis Felipe and Arnold Lopez got hurt midway through the half, forcing The Republic into substitutions. While coach Mark Briggs opted for more defensive switches, this changes may have been the team’s demise in the end.

“Yeah, it affected our substitution patterns. We weren’t expecting Luis to go down, we weren’t expecting Aldair to go down. So we had to react quickly, and unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us tonight,” Briggs said after the match.

And after 15 minutes or so of grinding, Phoenix found their breakthrough in the 81st minute.

Earning a free kick on thew left side of the pitch, Rising flicked a whipping ball towards Republic goalie Danny Vitiello. Unable to clear it, it deflected off his glove, hit into the back off the net at the far post by Sacramento defender Conor Donovan.

1-1 in the blink of an eye.

Sacramento Republic didn’t give up though,, earning a corner kick a minute later. Whipping the ball towards the box, Sacramento defender Lee Desmond headed it towards goal, but it was cleared by the opposition one more.

The two sides traded possession for another 10 minutes before Phoenix called their number at the death.

Giving the ball up off a throw-in, Rising players sprinted towards goal in the final third, with former SacramentoĀ midfielder Emil Cuello among the pack. Receiving the ball with space, the Argentine fired a rocket with his left boot from outside the box, curling the shot past Vitiello to break the deadlock.

2-1 to the visitors in the 90th minute, leaving Heart Health Park is stunned. So much so, that Sacramento Republic fans started throwing bottles and liquids at the visiting side out of frustration.

The Quails tried to find an equalizer in a hurry, but little too late, the damage had been done.

The final whistles blows, 2-1 is the final score.

Sacramento Republic FC had eight total shots on the night, with Phoenix at seven. Both sides split shots on target (2) but into end, the visitors’ shots hit the back of the net agaisnt the run of play, leaving the home team a bit emotional after the match.

“A bitter pill to swallow,” Briggs added. “The guys have been fantastic all year, but a hard one to swallow.”

Sacramento finishes the 2023 season with a record of 18-10-6 in the regular season, finishing second in the west. They’llĀ have a long offseason to think about this conference final though, looking to avenge their losses in the 2024 campaign.

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