Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup outcome

Sports Writer Zach Sabel covers the conclusion of the knockout cup competition between finalists Orlando City SC and Sacramento Republic FC

Major League Soccer, through Orlando City SC, has somewhat disappointingly triumphed once again in dominant fashion against the Division 2 United Soccer League’s Sacramento Republic. With a final score of 3-0 many neutral fans walked away disappointed, hoping that this would be the moment a lower league independent team could give MLS a real bloody nose, with the last time a non-MLS team won coming 23 years ago in the form of the now defunct Rochester Rhinos. What Sacramento was able to do should still be considered as a great achievement. Being the first non- first division team in the finals in 14 years is nothing to laugh at.

The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup has a long and storied history within the American soccer landscape, being one of the few constants throughout the changing landscape over the past 100+ years of soccer dating back to 1913. MLS entered the open cup in 1996, its debut season. Since then it has only lost one cup, that being the loss to the aforementioned Rochester Rhinos in 1999. This was also the year that the Cup was named after Lamar Hunt, considered somewhat a pioneer of the game in America, and one of the catalysts for bringing the World Cup to the US in 1994 and helping create MLS in 1996. Now having passed away, his two sons control FC Dallas of the MLS. The previous two iterations of the Cup in 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to the pandemic.

Orlando City came into this game the obvious favorites, being the strong side financially and statistically. Formed in 2015 as an expansion side, they carry the name of the old OCSC from the USL, but technically remain a separate entity. This was their first Open Cup final and win. They are coached by Oscar Pareja (who has now claimed his second Open cup title as coach), and led by players like Facundo Torres, Benji Michel, and Pedro Gallese. At the time of writing, Orlando sits in 5th in the eastern conference, four points safe in a playoff spot with six games to go.

The Sacramento Republic have had an interesting history in US soccer. Founded in 2012 and instantly being one of the best supported teams in USL, they have made the postseason in all but the 2021 campaign. A team that has as of right now had an MLS bid accepted only for it to fall apart, they’ve still got Major League aspirations and are currently working towards a larger stadium in Sacramento. Under a fairly new manager in Mark Briggs, and led by the likes of defender Keko, midfielder Rodrigo Lopez, and attackers Maalique Foster and striker Douglas Martinez have remained a fairly strong team and look poised to make the postseason in USL once again.

The game, held at Orlando’s home field of Exploria Stadium, was actually fairly competitive for a majority of the time, with Orlando and Sacramento keeping things fairly even in the first half with neither side really getting good chances on goal. The 2nd half is where the game really picked up. Still quite early, Sacramento would nearly find a goal in the 72’ minute with a lovely ball sent into the box only for it to be expertly parried away by OCSC keeper Gallese. Sacramento would have another chance quickly after that would also be expertly saved by Gallese. Orlando would finally break the deadlock and begin dismantling Sacramento in the 75’ minute off of a bad Sacramento pass at the back, a great Michel pass and an amazing Torres strike from the top of the 18-yard box. In the 78’ minute Orlando would launch a beautiful ball over the top to Michel who would get around the Sacramento keeper who came off his line only for a defender to slide in a foul Michel in the box, giving up a penaltyTorres would easily convert. The final deathblow would come in the 96’ minute in extra time with a beautiful Michel run through the middle of the Sacramento defense and a great shot slotted into the lower left corner. The game would end mere minutes later to the jubilation of Orlando and the heartbreak of Sacramento.

The absolute heartbreak of this dream run ending in defeat was evident on the faces of the Sacramento players, some of them falling to the field, unable to hold back the sheer emotion of the moment. The MLS would now be able to once again claim itself undisputed and miles ahead of USL. Hopefully, its hegemony can be broken in next year’s edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Fans of soccer can take solace in the fact that this Open Cup, after two years of pandemic and hardship, had the largest pool of participants in the tournament’s modern history with 103 clubs participating and 71 of those being professional. US soccer appears to be on a healthy trajectory for years to come.

Post Author: Zach Sabel