U.S. Open Cup Preview: Can The Sacramento Republic FC Shock The World Again?
After a long, anticipated wait, we have finally reached the most important match of the season ladies and gentlemen: The U.S. Open Cup Final between Sacramento Republic FC and Orlando City SC.
The Republic is looking to become the first non-MLS side to lift the Lamar Hunt trophy since 1999, a feat last achieved by the disbanded Rochester Rhinos. Sacramento has already made history in the tournament, becoming the first non-MLS side since 2008 to reach the Open Cup final. The Charleston Battery was the latter, losing 2-1 to D.C. United in 2008.
Wednesday’s match makes the fourth time Sacramento has faced MLS competition this year’s tournament, dispatching the San Jose Earthquakes, Los Angeles Galaxy, and Sporting K.C. on the road to the final. The last match against Kansas City was the most impressive, defeating the Wizards in a penalty shootout, 5-4. Captain Rodrigo Lopez’s final kick sent Heart Health Park into a madhouse, with players and coaches alike running around in pure joy.
Nevertheless, those prior matches have prepared the Indomitable Club to preserve through tough environments, able to accomplish anything if the side is up for it.
“I think we’ve learned that we can handle those environments. We’ve learned that we can perform within those environments and tomorrow is no different,” head coach Mark Briggs said in Tuesday’s pre-match press conference. “These are the occasions that every player wants to perform in front of, not many players make it to a final. We’ve got to enjoy the moment, the players have to enjoy the moments and feel confident and be in a good frame of mind to go out and perform.”
READ MORE FROM SACTOWN SPORTS: Sacramento Republic FC Watch Party Moved Inside Due To Heatwave
Kings of California 👑@SacRepublicFC went down to Carson and took a 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy in the @opencup Quarterfinals en route to the #USOC2022 Final 🏆#AllForRepublic pic.twitter.com/TNlFzH7VDj
— USL Championship (@USLChampionship) September 5, 2022
The Republic will need to continue with that same mindset Wednesday, coming off a 3-1 loss to the top team in the USL, Louisville City FC, over the weekend. A slight blow to the team’s quest of climbing the standings, but the away loss had some benefits, getting the Northern California side more acclimated to humid and hostile grounds like the one in Orlando.
Captain Rodrigo López praised Briggs and his coaching staff Tuesday for how they’ve prepared the team.
“I think the coaching staff has done a phenomenal job…So for us, it’s just preparing like we prepare for every other game. We take every game serious, you know, whether it’s league or Cup match, but obviously this one has a little more intel on it. So the coaching staff, like I said, has done a good job in letting us know and giving us all the info for tomorrow night to be prepared. And within us, it’s just good vibes and being ready mentally to face a strong Orlando side,” López said.
And they’ll need all the mental wherewithal they can muster, with their opponents going on a tear as of late, winning their previous four MLS matches. Orlando currently sits in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings of the MLS, finishing the month of August with a 3-2 thriller over Seattle Sounders.
From 103 down to 2.
Republic FC face off against Orlando City SC in the @opencup Final on Wednesday, in the biggest match in club and city history.
— Republic FC (@SacRepublicFC) September 6, 2022
Facing an overly-confident MLS side in a cup final may not seem ideal to most, but for Briggs and his players, it’s about having the right frame of mind, already proving that they can beat anybody on any night.
“I think like we’d be fools to think that they (players) don’t recognize the occasion and they don’t recognize the significance of what we’re walking into tomorrow,” Briggs said. “But it’s just important that when they have those feelings (of pressure) when they have those thoughts, we bring them back to being present. And we bring them back to understanding the detail of which they need to focus on for tomorrow, whether that’s the individual person they’re playing against, or that’s something tactically that we’re asking of them. But we just want to be present and I think when you’re present it gives you the right frame of mind to go out and be successful.
While entering hostile ground, the players know they have the support of Sacramento behind them, with droves of fans making the long trip to Florida for the big occasion. Lopez has been in and out of the organization since its’ inaugural season in 2o14, but feels this year, the 916 fans have been more lively than ever before.
“I truly feel like the Sacramento Republic has woken up the city of Sacramento a little bit on the sports side. You know, we truly feel the support and the love the energy from our fans, especially this season,” López said.
That fandom embodies the City of Trees, with supporters ranging from little ones to elders, Sacramento is a sports town like no other. But with that fandom comes loss as the Republic and its fanbase mourned the loss of superfan Crash Kitka Tuesday morning after a long bout with cancer.
Briggs took to social media Tuesday to pay his respects, while “RoRo” acknowledged the loss of another Republic family member during the press conference.
“We treat our fans with a lot of respect. We truly appreciate everything they do. And you know for Crash now that [he’s] in heaven, we definitely feel for their families. Our condolences go to their families and their friends and his friends and tomorrow night, you know, we have to go out and try to give them a joy. Go out there and leave it on the field for them. And I know that we have someone, you know, looking down on it,” López said.
Kitka’s passing comes only a few months after fellow Republic supporter, Randy Brink, passed away. With the support of a whole region behind them, the Republic will look to do the impossible once again, hopefully giving the city of Sacramento its’ first major title since the team took home the USL championship in 2014.
Tomorrow’s cup final kicks off from Exploria Stadium in Orlando at 5 p.m. PST and will be streaming on ESPN+.