SACRAMENTO — It’s March Madness, soccer style.
Sacramento Republic FC defeated Ventura County Fusion, 2-1, Wednesday night at Cosumnes River College Stadium in a second-round match of the 101st Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The single-elimination tournament features 80 teams from various levels of professional and amateur soccer.
In front of a rowdy crowd of 1,347, second-half goals from defender Harrison Delbridge and forward Dakota Collins erased a 1-0 Fusion lead, giving Sacramento its first Open Cup victory in franchise history.
The single-elimination event is the second-oldest continually running soccer tournament in the world, according to thecup.us. Similar to the U.S. Open, anyone can attempt to qualify for the tourney, as long as they meet certain criteria.
USL PRO, the third division of soccer in the United States which includes Republic FC, saw its teams enter in the second round this year — two rounds before the 16 American-based MLS squads will join the competition.
Ventura County competes in the USL PDL, which is sanctioned as the fourth division of pro soccer in the U.S.
“In this knock-out, elimination tournament, it’s always hard because you only have 90 minutes and you have another 30 after that if it’s still tied,” said Sacramento assistant coach Rod Underwood, who was filling in for suspended head coach Predrag “Preki” Radosavlijević. “It’s a lot of pressure, but we made it more difficult than it should have been.”
Preki is currently serving a two-game Open Cup suspension thanks to a 2009 incident where, according to the Los Angeles Times, he was escorted off the field by the police after an altercation with match officials while he was coaching for Chivas USA.
Despite dominating the first half, Sacramento found itself down 1-0, when Ventura County forward Jordan Rideout pounced on a counterattack and finished a breakaway past Republic goalkeeper Dominic Jakubek.
Republic FC brought on former Fusion player Rodrigo Lopez, who is usually a starter, at halftime.
Fourteen minutes after the break, Lopez floated a free kick to the back post that was met by another former VC player, Delbridge, a towering Aussie whose header flew into the upper left corner of the net to make it 1-1.
Collins scored the winner 19 minutes later, converting a rebound off a shot by Chad Bartlomé.
“It’s always important, the first game in Open Cup history for this franchise,” Lopez said. “It’s important to get the win. We had a slow start, but we pulled away with the win. Good teams find a way to win against a good opponent. Ventura Fusion is always one of the top PDL teams.”
For Lopez, the tournament is a family affair as his father played one game in the Cup for San Nicolas in 1998.
“It’s just a tournament that personally, I want to advance in, being here with such an amazing crowd and atmosphere at our games,” Lopez said. “I think (Sacramento) deserves an MLS team. Outside of the field, they’re doing things right. So I think inside of the field, we gotta do our job and keep advancing and make a statement, not just for our league, but for MLS and all the other leagues in our country.”
Republic FC will take on the Fresno Fuego May 28 at a yet-to-be announced location in the third round of the tournament. Before that, however, Sacramento hosts L.A. Galaxy II in a league match on Saturday (7:30 p.m.) at Hughes Stadium.
Notes: Due to Open Cup rules, none of the on-loan players from the Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes, including El Macero’s Adam Jahn, were eligible to participate. … Since MLS began play in 1996, only one non-MLS team has won the tournament: The Rochester Raging Rhinos of the then A-League (second division) beat the Colorado Rapids, 2-0, in the 1999 final at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. … Fusion defender Javan Torre was sent off in the 88th minute of Wednesday’s match for making physical contact with the referee.
— Reach Evan Ream at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam