Celebrating A Historic Upset In Sacramento
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This week, we’re thrilled to share a guest post from Justin Nuñez of the great supporter culture site FNDM90. Make sure to like/follow all of FNDM90s channels, and check out our co-produced video content below. Justin was on the ground in Sacramento earlier this week when Sacramento Republic made history, defeating Sporting Kansas City in penalties and advancing to the U.S. Open Cup Final.
For thousands of people across Northern California, July 27 was no ordinary day.
Monica Wilmot woke up before sunrise to be at her job at a library in Santa Cruz. Normally, she would open up the library and spend the majority of the day indoors among stacks of books and whispering patrons. Instead, after wrapping up a few tasks, Monica hopped in her car and started the three-hour journey north toward Sacramento.
Around the same time, more than 100 miles away near the city of Stockton, Michael Dominguez was closing down his auto shop. He had been preparing for this day for months and he wasn’t going to miss a single minute of the festivities.
“As soon as we found out that Sacramento Republic would be hosting the semifinal match, we knew we needed to be there,” shared Michael. “Once we got tickets, I just kept asking ‘Is it July 27 yet?’”
Like Monica, Michael planned his workday accordingly.
After taking care of a few priority tasks, Michael and his girlfriend Serena packed up the car and headed up highway I-5 to be among the first through the gates at Heart Health Park. Within an hour, the pair’s black sedan rolled into the parking lot with their large Sacramento Republic flag waving off the back.
Across Sacramento and the broader Northern California region, businesses were having to accommodate thousands of half-day requests.
“Oh yea, most of us called out today too,” joked a handful of Los Desmadrosos supporters who were gathered early outside the stadium.
Los Desmadrosos, a literal family of supporters who are part of the larger Tower Bridge Battalion, knew exactly how important the U.S. Open Cup match was for the club. Most of the older members of the group have been with Sacramento Republic since the club’s first season in 2014. They still remember what it was like nearly a decade ago when there was just a handful of diehard fans in the stands.
Long before national television cameras put a spotlight on the city and the club, they were simply a group of siblings who grew up loving soccer. As adults with their own families, Sacramento Republic was their way to come together on a regular basis.
Over time, more and more generations of family members joined the ranks and they quickly became the unofficial band within the supporters section at the north end of Heart Health Park.
And today, their energy would be needed more than ever, as their club would attempt to become the first lower league team to reach the U.S. Open Cup final since 2008.
Everyone we spoke to said the same thing – today was a day unlike any other.
From the moment it was announced that Sacramento Republic would be hosting Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City in the semifinal of the U.S. Open Cup, the countdown was on.
Jordan Nakata, a member of the Tower Bridge Battalion board, remembers listening to the draw over the speakers in his car. When the news broke, Jordan had to do his best to contain his excitement
“I was sitting in traffic listening on my car’s audio,” recalled Jordan. “When Sacramento was announced as hosts, I was doing my best to concentrate on the road while pumping my fists in excitement.”
Now that they day was finally here, Jordan could barely hold back his joy. He wasn’t alone either. As kickoff approached, the excitement among the more than 11,000 fans in attendance was at its peak.
Over the course of the next two and a half hours, the Sacramento Republic supporters inside the stadium and watching at home would experience the full spectrum of soccer fandom. With every counterattack and near miss, their nerves grew more and more tense. At the end of regulation it was still scoreless.
By extra time, most people were going through their rituals of prayer and superstition. Some could barely watch, holding their scarves over their eyes anytime a Kansas City attack would get close to goal. Others paced back and forth in the aisles as they implored the referee to signal the end.
When it finally came time for penalty kicks, everyone seemed to flash the same glancing look to their neighbors within the Tower Bridge Battalion. “Could we really do this?” their faces said with no need for words.
By then, almost everyone had lost their voice as they watched their beloved players walk up to the penalty spot on the far end of the field. Each kick felt like an eternity worth of anxiety.
And then it happened.
First the gutsiest of gutsy panenkas from Maalique Foster, capped off with a backflip celebration. Then a stonewalling stop by goalkeeper Daniel Vitiello to give Sacramento the edge.
Then, with a trip to the U.S. Open Cup final on the line, Sacramento’s Rodrigo Lopez calmly stepped up to the penalty spot and gave every person watching a memory that they’ll never forget. As soon as the ball hit the back of the net, beer and water flew through the air as the Tower Bridge Battalion supporters hugged anyone within arm’s reach.
Sacramento Republic and its supporters had just endured 120+ minutes of nerve-racking soccer, and in that moment, it was as if time stood still.
Captured in that final kick was every long drive people like Monica and Michael had made to attend matches. It was all the energy that Los Desmadrosos had poured into building a matchday atmosphere from day one. And it was all the work that Tower Bridge Battalion had done to turn Sacramento into a pinnacle of U.S. soccer culture.
There will no doubt be more milestones to come for Sacramento Republic. But right now, it’s hard to imagine any more meaningful than July 27.