Luis Felipe Fernandes delivered a third consecutive game-winning goal to Sacramento Republic FC's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup run against the LA Galaxy, sending the side to the Semifinals for the first time. | Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC
In his career, Sacramento Republic FC’s Luis Felipe Fernandes has never really been a major goalscorer.
In 81 career appearances in the USL Championship, he’s recorded 12 goals across the regular season and playoffs. In 21 appearances for the San Jose Earthquakes across three seasons, he didn’t find the net at all.
In this season’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, though?
He’s writing his legend, round by round.
For a third consecutive outing, Fernandes provided the decisive goal as Sacramento advanced to the Semifinals of the tournament for the first time in club history as his 70th-minute strike delivered a 2-1 victory against the LA Galaxy at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“It was definitely good to score against them having faced them before,” said Fernandes. “I’ve won against them before playing for San Jose, but I’ve never scored against them, but it was great. It was definitely a special match for me, helping the team advance. I feel really blessed, to be honest, and happy to be part of this team.”
Fernandes’ finish from 30 yards continued to cement his place as one of the essential pieces in Sacramento’s lineup. Since his arrival at the club last season after departing San Jose, the New York native has delivered numerous memorable, and timely, moments. Scoring the opening goals against both Phoenix Rising FC in the Fourth Round and then the Quakes last month in the Round of 16 to send Republic FC to the Quarterfinals for the first time in its history, Fernandes proved the man for the moment.
That proved the case against the Galaxy, too. Provided time and space to take aim in the left channel, his low shot to the right corner was too much for LA goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann as it tucked just inside the post. Having scored three of his six goals for Sacramento in the league from outside the penalty area, the finish was another moment that highlighted Fernandes’ ability from distance.
“He can strike a ball like the best of them,” said Sacramento Head Coach Mark Briggs. “Tonight, to score the goal that he did, in the manner that he did, at such a critical time of the game was just phenomenal. It was the perfect moment for us to get that goal and change the momentum of the game.”
Fernandes’ strike added to a fourth-minute tally by Rodrigo Lopez which had given the hosts the early advantage on the veteran playmaker’s fourth goal of the tournament. When the Galaxy hit back 14 minutes later off a corner kick that deflected in off Sacramento defender Conor Donovan, the early elation quickly disappeared. The conviction with which Republic FC continued to play, however, highlighted the readiness the side appeared to have to take advantage when opportunities presented themselves.
“Our coaching staff has been amazing with scouting this year,” said Lopez. “It’s something that, to be honest, is very crucial in what we’ve done this year because they’ve dissected teams very well. You could tell they put a lot of time and effort into planning of games, and what they said that we were going to face, happened. … The way they planned it out for us was basically what we expected, and we were obviously able to capitalize early and that was big for us.”
“We knew their strengths, and what we could take advantage of,” added Fernandes. “Honestly, I don’t think they took the game seriously and we took advantage.”
The visitors were also buoyed by the large contingent of travelling support that made its way south for the game, which made its presence felt throughout, but then even more so after the final whistle.
“The fans, one more time like always showed up and supported us the whole match,” said Fernandes. “It was great to have them here, having them come all the way from Sacramento. It was great to have them here and support us the whole time. It couldn’t have been better.”
Sacramento’s run is now the deepest in the tournament by a lower-division side since then-USL Championship side FC Cincinnati advanced to the Semifinals five years ago. Republic FC will face the winner of Wednesday night’s clash between Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City or fellow lower-division underdog Union Omaha of USL League One, offering a chance for the first all-lower division Semifinal in the tournament since 2008, when the USL First Division’s Seattle Sounders and Charleston Battery met for a place in the final.
Whoever Republic FC faces, though, Fernandes and his teammates will be ready and eager for the task.
“We don’t stop here,” he said. “We have a lot to do, and we’re going for it.”