Sacramento Republic FC will try to become the first lower-division side to reach the Final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup since 2008 when it hosts Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night at a sold-out Heart Health Park. | Photo courtesy Sacramento Republ
Sacramento Republic FC will take aim at becoming the first lower-division side to advance to the Final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in more than a decade as it faces Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night at Heart Health Park (10:30 p.m. ET | ESPN+).
SKC is the third top-flight opponent Republic FC will face following its underdog run to the Semifinals, with Sacramento having previously taken a 2-0 victory at home to regional foe the San Jose Earthquakes in the Round of 16 before travelling and defeating the LA Galaxy 2-1 in the Quarterfinals last month.
Luis Felipe Fernandes and Rodrigo Lopez each found the net in those two contests, with Lopez currently tied for the tournament lead with four goals and Fernandes having scored the game-winning goal in the past three rounds. The midfield duo, allied with veteran midfielders Matt LaGrassa and Nick Ross, have proven key to Sacramento’s successful run which now sees the side in with a chance to match the feat achieved by fellow current Championship side the Charleston Battery in 2008 when Charleston became the last lower-division club to reach the Final.
Republic FC’s victory against the Galaxy was part of a tremendous run of form in June that saw the side reel off five consecutive victories in all competitions, earning Head Coach Mark Briggs the Championship’s Coach of the Month award. July has not been as kind to the side, however, with Sacramento winless in its last four league outings after a scoreless draw with Phoenix Rising FC this past Saturday that kept the side in the seventh and final playoff place in the Western Conference.
Sacramento has looked to bolster its attack in recent weeks with the arrival of Jamaican forward Deshorn Brown, who made his debut for the side as a second-half substitute against Phoenix. Republic FC has also received solid play from Honduran forward Douglas Martinez Jr., as well as Maalique Foster, who leads the team with four goals in league play, and Luther Archimede.
The major strength of Republic FC, though, has been its defensive play, where the side has conceded 19 goals in 19 games in its league campaign while only allowing two goals in five games in the Open Cup. The club’s typical back three of Dan Casey, Conor Donovan and Lee Desmond – who won the FAI Cup last year at St. Patrick’s Athletic – and goalkeeper Danny Vitiello have formed a strong foundation for the side’s success.
While Sacramento has struggled of late in the league, this season has been a challenging one for Sporting overall. Injuries to key players – including losing Mexican international forward Alan Pulido for the season after he underwent surgery to have cartilage repaired in his knee – have left the side in last place in the Western Conference and 10 points out of a playoff position. SKC has recently added reinforcements, with German midfielder Erik Thommy and Nigerian forward William Agada both making their debuts this past Saturday in a 2-0 defeat to Los Angeles FC.
Sporting’s key figure, however, remains Johnny Russell, with the Scottish international leading the team with six goals in league play and two more in the Open Cup. Daniel Salloi has also been dangerous in the attacking third, scoring twice in the club’s 6-0 victory against USL League One side Union Omaha in the Quarterfinals, a contest that showed the attacking potential SKC possesses when in full flight.
As Sacramento follows the two prior Championship clubs in the Richmond Kickers (2011) and FC Cincinnati (2017) that previously advanced to the Semifinals, only to fall one step short, the hosts will look to guard against those potential threats and write another chapter into an already-historic run in the club’s history.