Sacramento Republic FC's Danny Vitiello leads the celebrations after the club's penalty shootout victory against Sporting Kansas City to advance to the Final of the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. | Photo courtesy U.S. Soccer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Indomitable.
After 120 minutes of tense, pressure-filled action, and a shootout that featured quality, audacity and drama, Sacramento Republic FC claimed a 5-4 victory against Sporting Kansas City after the teams had finished scoreless after extra time before a sellout crowd of 11,569 fans at Heart Health Park to advance to the Final of the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
A decisive save in the fifth round of the penalty shootout by Sacramento goalkeeper Danny Vitiello to deny SKC’s Graham Zusi, and subsequent conversion by captain Rodrigo Lopez capped a thrilling content which saw Republic FC become the first lower-division club to reach the Final since fellow current USL Championship club the Charleston Battery in 2008.
Republic FC will face Orlando City SC at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Fla. on September 7 as it seeks to become the first lower-division club this century to claim the historic tournament and a place in the 2023 Concacaf Champions League.
After two successful rounds of conversions, Vitiello appeared to have given Sacramento a potential edge in the third round, only to be ruled to have left his line early as he denied Willy Agada’s shot to the left corner. Agada converted on the second attempt, but Sacramento’s shooters remained flawless. Luther Archimede answered to keep it even after three rounds, as did Maalique Foster, whose Panenka looped into the net with SKC goalkeeper John Pulskamp helpless after diving before the ball was struck.
Then came former United States international Zusi to open the fifth round, and Vitiello’s moment. The shot to the right corner was parried wide of the post, and this time it counted. Lopez stepped up, and his low shot down the middle as Pulskamp went to the left corner sent the stadium into wild celebrations.
Sacramento had needed to weather what they knew would be the biggest challenge of their deepest Open Cup run in club history. The game opened at a rapid tempo, with Sporting threatening first after just 60 seconds when Khiry Shelton burst forward on a counterattack in the right channel and fired just wide of the left post. Soon after Sacramento carved out a chance of its own as Douglas Martinez Jr. won possession and picked out Jack Gurr as he arrived late centrally but shot over the crossbar.
As anticipated, however, Sporting’s overall campaign belied the challenging nature of Sacramento’s task. A header by Johnny Russell just went wide of the right post in the 13th minute for SKC, while later in the half Vitiello had to make a pair of good saves to keep out Daniel Salloi and Erik Thommy to keep the game scoreless at the break.
Sacramento had its chances as well in the first half, although some nerves showed as even the usually reliable Luis Felipe Fernandes had his pocket picked in midfield more than once. Just before the half-hour mark, Martinez turned a near-post cross from the right by Gurr just off target, while Lopez couldn’t quite make clean contact on a volleyed chance after Fernandes’ pressure turned possession over and Keko’s far post cross from the right came to the Sacramento captain.
The hosts had a golden opportunity to take the lead shortly past the hour-mark, however, as a well-worked move that shifted play from the right to the left side of the penalty saw a half-clearance fall to the feet of Keko. The Spanish veteran controlled and fired a low shot to the left corner only for Pulskamp to produce an excellent low save.
Vitiello was called on to make a key save as well with three minutes to go in regulation as SKC substitute Felipe Hernandez’s powerful a shot from 25 yards was tipped over the crossbar, and as extra time began, the four-time Open Cup winners took aim at a decisive ending. In the 94th minute, Salloi curled a shot from the left side of the penalty area that flashed wide of the right post, while four minutes later the Hungarian forward crashed a shot off the crossbar before the rebound deflected off Sacramento defender Dan Casey and behind for a corner.
Sacramento, meanwhile, had difficulty in holding possession consistently as the visitors tried to turn the screw, with Russell having a shot denied by Vitiello as he moved into the right side of the penalty area under pressure from Lee Desmond.
Having survived the opening 15 minutes of extra time, Republic FC had an early chance in the second period that saw Lopez’s low shot saved by Pulskamp, but then the pressure from the visitors continued. A shout for a handball in the Sacramento penalty area was waved away, while SKC forward Willy Agada took a heavy touch after Russell found him in the penalty area, allowing Vitiello to smother.
Another chance arrived for the visitors with four minutes to go for Russell with Vitiello equal to the task again as he remained upright to parry the shot wide. Sacramento then had a late chance to grab a winner in stoppage time as first Casey’s shot was blocked after a long throw-in by Feretty Sousa on the right and Desmond’s second effort went high, bringing the final whistle, but the hosts saved the best for last as Vitiello’s heroics paved the way to a meeting with Orlando City SC at Exploria Stadium in September.