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Arden Advocate

'We deserve to be here, and we know it's a big match'

Jul 27, 2022 12:00AM ● By By Shaun Holkko, sports editor

Sacramento Republic FC midfielder Matt LaGrassa surveys the field for an open teammate. Photo courtesy of Sacramento Republic FC

'We deserve to be here, and we know it's a big match' [5 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

Sac Republic FC prepares for biggest match in club history

SACRAMENTO, CA (MPG) – It’s just another match. At least that’s what Sacramento Republic FC head coach Mark Briggs is telling his team in the lead up to what is arguably the biggest soccer match in Sacramento history.

“Normal preparation for a normal midweek game,” Briggs said Monday, July 25, in the team’s news conference leading up the match. “Treating it like we would treat any other game. There’s no getting away from the occasion and what it is. But we’ve got to be able to handle that and we’ve got to be able to perform in those constraints.”

The Republic will be hosting Sporting Kansas City, from Major League Soccer (MLS), at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday evening at Heart Health Park in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (USOC). Sacramento plays in the United Soccer League Championship (USL), which is a professional league one tier below MLS.

The USOC is the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the country, dating back to 1913. The tournament has returned for the 107th time after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Republic have won four USOC games in 2022 to earn this massive opportunity.

“We deserve to be here, and we know it’s a big match for the club, for the players,” Republic FC captain and midfielder Rodrigo Lopez said Monday. “But we’re also preparing like coach said as a normal match, like we take every other game.”

Sacramento won emphatically 6-0 at home over the Portland Timbers U23 team on April 7 in the second round of the USOC. Nearly two weeks later on April 20, the Republic narrowly defeated Central Valley Fuego FC 2-1 in a third-round thriller at Heart Health Park.

Then over a month later on May 25 in the USOC Round of 16, Sacramento shocked the U.S. soccer scene by upsetting the San Jose Earthquakes from MLS, winning at home 2-0. At that point, most thought the Republic’s magical run had reached its end, but it didn’t.

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Sacramento and its passionate fan base traveled down to Southern California for a midweek matchup against the LA Galaxy on June 21, and we aren’t talking about LA Galaxy II that plays in the USL with Republic FC, we’re talking about the MLS team. In the USOC Quarterfinals match played in Carson, Sacramento shocked the soccer world once again, defeating the Galaxy 2-1 to earn its first trip to the semifinal round of the USOC in club history.

“The reaction of Sacramento, the city, the fans, you could see how excited we were to host the semifinal,” Lopez said. “Obviously it’s a historic match. We love playing in front of our fans. I think we have the best fans in the USL so the boys love playing in front of our home crowd, and we’ve done fairly well for ourselves at home. The boys are excited to play in front of a sold-out Heart Health Park and they’re going to see what Sacramento fans are all about.”

The Republic’s opponent on Wednesday evening, Sporting KC, has won the USOC four times in club history in 2004, 2012, 2015 and 2017. The Wizards’ head coach Peter Vermes has coached the squad to three of those titles after beginning his tenure with the club in 2009.

“It’s a great stadium that they have put together. When you see it, it’s a really good environment,” Vermes said about Sacramento on Tuesday in his team’s news conference before the match. “You can tell even on video (about) the environment (and) their fans the way they’re into it. You could even see when they played the Galaxy, the fans traveled to that game, and they were incredibly boisterous.”

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K.C. is led on the field by captain and forward Johnny Russell, who has big-game experience playing on the road not only in the USOC, but also in Scottish Cup matches back home in his native land.

“I’m excited, it’s a new place for us to go out and play in and a new atmosphere,” Russell said about Sacramento on Tuesday. “I enjoy playing on the road. The more time’s went on in (MLS), I seem to be getting more stuck on the road as well so hopefully that’s not the case tomorrow.”

The loudest group of fans consistently at Republic games is the Tower Bridge Battalion, who are “an independent supporters union for Sacramento Republic FC,” according to the group’s website. Briggs knows the fans will do their part on Wednesday night, and now it’s time for his team to do theirs.

“If you look around our group, I think there’s a number of players that can score goals,” Briggs said. “It’s all about the collective, it’s all about the team. That’s the beauty of this group, they’re not worried about who puts the ball in the back of the net or who gets the assist. They’re worried about the collective and getting the result that they want.

“That gives you a good opportunity no matter what game you’re going into. If the collective is more important than the individual, then you always have an opportunity.”