SACRAMENTO — After three wins in three different cities in six days, Sacramento Republic FC finally can rest knowing that it has exceeded the wildest expectations of its fans.
The Republic, who play in USL PRO, demolished the Fresno Fuego of USL PDL (fourth division), 6-0, in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night at Cosumnes River College, setting up a fourth-round matchup against the San Jose Earthquakes, one of Sacramento’s two MLS affiliates.
Nermanja Vuković, Justin Braun, Thomas Stewart, Rodrigo Lopez, Emrah Klimenta and Steven Evans all scored in a dominating, but scrappy performance that also featured a red card for each team, multiple scuffles on the field and a penalty save.
“It feels great. I hope the team gets to realize that we’re a good team,” Lopez said, “We’re a very deep team as well. I think we can go pretty far. Not just in the Open Cup, but in league as well. (We can) make the playoffs and contend for the championship.
“Hopefully we walk in (Thursday) and they tell us that we have a couple of days off,” he added with a laugh.
After arriving back home late Tuesday night due to weather delays from its two-game road trip — where it picked up wins in Rochester, New York, and Dayton, Ohio — the Republic started Wednesday’s match out slowly, nearly giving up a goal in the fifth minute, only to be saved by a goal-line clearance from defender Harrison Delbridge.
The teams traded quality opportunities until Fuego defender Alfred Edmonds was sent off in the 41st minute for his second yellow card, giving Sacramento a man advantage.
The locals quickly pounced just four minutes later as some extended possession saw midfielder Octavio Guzman pick out an overlapping run from Vuković, who received the ball 12 yards out in the left side of the box. The left back rifled a left-footed rocket into the roof of the net for the eventual winning goal of the match.
“Nermanja was wide-open,” Guzman said. “It was easy to do.”
Shortly after the break, Guzman won the ball at the midfield stripe to set up a three-on-one situation where Braun played Stewart through onto goal.
Stewart cut the ball back, drew the Fuego keeper off his line and returned the ball to Braun, who was able to tap the ball in from close range. Up 2-0, the Republic was in control and already had eyes on the June 11 game against San Jose at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
The next four goals came in a flurry in which Fuego goalkeeper Francisco Hernandez was forced to make a variety of highlight-reel saves to keep the score as close as it was.
Stewart scored eight minutes after Braun, on an assist from Lopez, and then 15 minutes after that, the diminutive playmaker brought the house down himself with a spectacular effort.
Picking the ball up 30 yards from goal, Lopez slalomed between two defenders, pushed the ball past a third while running around the other side of the helpless defender, then took a touch to his right and chipped the ball over the onrushing Hernandez, sending the crowd of 1,523 into pandemonium.
“I don’t know where I got it from,” the halftime substitute said in disbelief. “I didn’t know I had the legs to do it.”
Klimenta and Evans each scored to cap off the blowout that wasn’t done with controversy.
Republic midfielder Ivan Mirković fouled a Fuego player in the box in stoppage time to receive his second yellow card of the game and set up a penalty kick for Fresno.
Mirković was given a standing ovation as he exited the field and goalkeeper Jakubek dove to his right to stone Jose Cuevas and then to his right again to deny Cuevas on the follow-up as the referee blew for full time.
“We expect to win; you never really contemplate what the score is going to be,” said Rod Underwood, Sacramento’s acting manager while head coach Preki finished serving the second of a two-game suspension in the Open Cup. “We just expect to win.”
Notes: Mirković’s red card will rule him out of the fourth-round game against San Jose … Elliott Hord, who is from Fresno and suited up for UC Davis until 2012, is a midfielder for the Fuego. He played all 90 minutes on Wednesday.
— Reach Evan Ream at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam