Sacramento Savors Its Underdog Moment
Fans during the U.S. Open Cup semifinal game in July between Sacramento Republic F.C. and Sporting Kansas City at Heart Health Park in Sacramento.Credit…Erin Chang/ISI Photos — Getty Images
SACRAMENTO — A veteran of international soccer, Mark Briggs did not need to be told that his second-division Sacramento Republic Football Club had done something significant, shocking three straight Major League Soccer opponents to advance to the finals of the all-comers U.S. Open Cup.
“It’s an opportunity for us to showcase ourselves, and fortunately, we’ve been able to grab it,” Briggs, a native of England, said.
Still, even after successive upsets of big-league teams from San Jose, Los Angeles and Kansas City, it’s possible that the coach couldn’t fully embrace the larger resonance of Republic F.C.’s underdog achievement.
After all, he’s not from here.
The Sacramento region, with 2.5 million residents, would be a dominant metro area in almost any other state. But in California, it has long had to fight for respect in the shadow of San Francisco and Los Angeles, not to mention San Diego and the Silicon Valley.
As a sports town, Sacramento operates in a near-perpetual state of acid reflux. Spurned by Al Davis after a relocation tease by the N.F.L.’s Raiders in the 1980s and ignored as a future landing spot for the Oakland A’s, the city has a long and dyspeptic history of playing host to an array of second-tier enterprises and oddball sports ventures.
Its lone local entry among the five major U.S. leagues, the Sacramento Kings, has gone 16 seasons (and counting) in the N.B.A. without a playoff appearance — a league record nobody wanted.
Republic F.C.’s march through the Open Cup is a bittersweet gift. The city’s attempt to advance the franchise out of the United Soccer League and join M.L.S. has become a yearslong courtship, yet unrequited. The league invited Sacramento to join in 2019, then looked elsewhere after the chief investor, Ron Burkle, pulled out of the deal in 2021.
“We are a major league city in every way,” insisted Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento. “No matter what happens going forward, we are still fighting to win a franchise” in M.L.S. Steinberg said that plans for a new soccer stadium were progressing in the rail yards area near downtown — a slimmed-down version of an idea originally hatched to accommodate M.L.S.-size crowds.
Sacramento is still struggling to rebound from pandemic closures of downtown businesses and state office buildings, and a stadium could be a potential catalyst to jump-start activity in the city core. The region has drawn renewed interest from coastal residents in an era of remote work, attracted to lower prices and more living space.
And Republic F.C.’s run to the Cup finals has raised anew a sense of what’s possible among Sacramento’s typically devoted sports fans. The club’s pulsating semifinal win over Sporting Kansas City, which was decided by a thrilling penalty kick shootout, was played before a wild sellout crowd of 11,500. “I think many of them came because they realized we had a chance to show the M.L.S. that they made a mistake,” said Brad Hill, 37, a Republic season ticket-holder who has followed the club since its inception in 2014.
During the Kings’ run of success in the early 2000s, Sacramento fans locked onto the Los Angeles Lakers as their rivals, only to be met with studied indifference or casual insult by Los Angeles stars, including Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
Republic F.C.’s run has tapped into that emotion. “Our players go out there and have a chip on their shoulder, something to prove, and I think that’s very representative of Sacramento,” said Todd Dunivant, the team’s president and general manager, himself a five-time M.L.S. champion during his playing days. “As a city, as a region, we’re not the first thought when you think of California, but we’re proud of what we do and who we are.”
The club will need that attitude Sept. 7, when it travels to face M.L.S. power Orlando City SC in the tournament finals. Win or lose, though, it has already provided Sacramento’s tortured fans with a surprising, upbeat moment in another long sports year.
“There’s a thirst for a winner here, and there’s a fire in the belly to get an M.L.S. team,” said Francis Avoce, 24, who played high school soccer in nearby Davis, participated in Republic F.C.’s first academy development class of young talent, and has spent the past two years competing internationally. “It’s the message it sends to the rest of the country: Sacramento belongs here.”
Mark Kreidler was The Sacramento Bee’s lead sports columnist for 15 years and has lived in the Sacramento area for three decades.
The rest of the news
Tesla: California’s Department of Motor Vehicles has accused Tesla of falsely advertising its driver-assistance technology in two complaints that could affect the company’s ability to sell cars in the state.
ID cards: A new bill calls for California to issue ID cards to any resident regardless of their legal status, whether they drive or not, The LAist reports.
Abortion rights: A resolution to ban abortion in San Clemente faced serious backlash from the community, and the City Council on Saturday removed the proposal from a future agenda, Voice of OC reports.
Crash arrest: The woman arrested in connection to a car crash that killed five people last week in Los Angeles has been released from the hospital and is now in police custody, The Los Angeles Times reports.
No phones allowed: Bullard High School will require students to lock away their cellphones during the upcoming school year, but the initiative has parents worried, The Fresno Bee reports.
Death Valley: After near-record-breaking rains hit Death Valley National Park on Friday, hundreds of tourists trapped by flash flooding were able to leave as crews cleared a pathway through mud and rocks, The Associated Press reports.
Wildfires: Lightning strikes from a thunderstorm on Friday ignited a dozen fires in the Six Rivers National Forest, forcing evacuations in rural areas of Trinity and Humboldt Counties, The Los Angeles Times reports.
McKinney update: The state’s largest blaze this year, the McKinney fire in Siskiyou County, is now 40 percent contained, CBS 13 reports.
Housing crisis: With nowhere else to go, ski resorts have leased campgrounds from the U.S. Forest Service to lodge their employees, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Tear gas: The Berkeley City Council will not discuss suspending a tear gas ban after People’s Park clashes, The Mercury News reports.
What we’re eating
The easiest, most adaptable kung pao recipe.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Meg Sullivan, who lives in Los Angeles. Meg recommends a trip to Riverside:
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Danny Park wants his store, Skid Row People’s Market, to be more than just its inventory.
His mission statement is painted on the wall in English and Korean: “A safe space for Skid Row community to heal ourselves and develop healthy identities.”
Employees at the Los Angeles store sometimes serve as therapists, social workers, confidants or mediators. They try to help customers build self-esteem, express themselves, display their art, even take steps toward building credit.
“We all believe, in whatever work we do, that we are doing some kind of good for humanity no matter what it is,” Park told The Los Angeles Times. “So why can’t that be the product?”
The story of why the store tries to do so many things has a lot to do with Park, but it really started long before, on a Saturday morning in 1991.
Read more from The Los Angeles Times.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Conductor’s stick (5 letters).
Soumya Karlamangla, Allison Honors and Jack Kramer contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].