Sacramento Republic FC of the USL Championship, Orlando City’s opponent in Wednesday’s final that kicks off at 8 p.m. at Exploria Stadium (streaming on ESPN+), is looking to become the first non-Division I club to win the tournament since the Rochester Rhinos in 1999.
A $300,000 prize and a CONCACAF Champions League spot are awarded to the Open Cup champion. The runner-up will receive $100,000.
Sacramento’s run to the final is improbable — especially after what transpired last year.
Off the field, the Republic’s plan to move up the U.S. soccer pyramid took a significant hit. Sacramento, which began play in the USL in 2014, was awarded an MLS expansion team in October 2019. The Republic was expected to begin MLS play in 2023 after delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Ron Burkle, the lead investor in Republic’s move to MLS, cited COVID-19-related reasons for deciding in February 2021 not to move forward with the acquisition of an expansion team, putting the project on indefinite hold.
On the field, the Republic faltered in 2021. They won only a quarter of their USL games (8-12-12), finishing the season with a negative goal differential and missing the league’s playoffs for the first time in club history.
Just 12 players from last year’s roster are on this year’s squad.
“Our team has shown and really lived our values,” Todd Dunivant, Sacramento Republic’s president and general manager, said in a club-issued video. “We have a really special group and that’s why we’ve gotten to where we have.”
Sacramento, the first non-Division I club to reach the Open Cup final since the Charleston Battery in 2008, isn’t a stranger to the U.S. Open Cup.
The Republic advanced to the Round of 16 twice in their previous three appearances (six total appearances) in the tournament before being eliminated by MLS teams.
“We’ve made good runs in the past,” Dunivant said, “[but] typically have run into some roadblocks in MLS teams that have knocked us off.”
That hasn’t been the case this year.
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They’ve beaten three MLS teams this year in the U.S. Open Cup: the San Jose Earthquakes 2-0 in the Round of 16 on May 25, the LA Galaxy 2-1 in the quarterfinals on June 21 and Sporting KC — four-time Open Cup champions — in a 5-4 penalty-kick shootout in the semifinals on July 27.
“The way [coach] Mark [Briggs] has managed the team,” Dunivant said, “has been tremendous throughout this period.”
The Republic is poised to be a defensive challenge for Orlando City.
Led by goalkeeper Danny Vitiello, they have one of USL’s best defenses and have been even stingier in tournament play, allowing just 2 goals in six games.
Midfielder Rodrigo López, who was on Sacramento’s first team, leads a Republic attack that’s scored 14 goals in the tournament.
“The challenges have been every single game and we know going into the final that’s going to be increased even more,” Dunivant said. “Playing in Orlando and having a sold-out stadium, the fans are going to be loud. But we’re also going to travel with supporters, staff and look forward to our greatest challenge yet in the tournament.”