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Former Hounds keeper Danny Vitiello shines as Sacramento Republic FC advance to Open Cup final

Rodrigo Lopez (left) and goalkeeper Danny Vitiello celebrate after Lopez scored the game-winning penalty kick to give Sacramento Republic a 5-4 win over Sporting KC in the 2022 US Open Cup Semifinals. Photo: Sacramento Republic FC

From various reports, including TheCup.US

Led by former Riverhounds SC goalkeeper Danny Vitiello, the Sacramento Republic FC, have made a remakable run in the US Open Cup, as for the third straight round, the USL Championship team beat an MLS opponent, to make it all the way to the 2022 Cup final.

In front of an electric, raucous and sold out Heart Health Park, Sacramento Republic FC played host to Sporting Kansas City FC Wednesday night in a semifinal match as part of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The two teams took the field minutes after the other semifinal match of the tournament was decided with Orlando City FC taking care of New York Red Bulls 5-1.

After a scoreless draw, the match would be ultimately decided by penalty kicks, with Republic FC winning 5-4 to advance to the 107th US Open Cup Final against Orlando City SC. Vitiello saved William Agada’s attempt in the third round, but the Nigerian’s stutter step drew him off his line before the shot was taken, and the kick was retaken and converted.

With the penalty shootout tied at 4-4, it was Vitiello saving the final penalty shot from Graham Zusi and then Republic FC captain Rodrigo Lopez sealing the victory with a firm strike.

In the fourth round, Sporting KC’s Felipe Hernandez picked up a yellow card for dissent after yelling at Vitiello following his penalty kick. Maalique Foster then stepped up for Sacramento and beat Sporting KC keeper John Pulskamp with a Panenka down the middle that sent gasps through the home crowd.

Vitiello faced 31 shots from Sporting KC and made eight saves. His teammates helped out, blocking 14 shots.

With the win, Republic FC become just the third lower division club to knock out more than two MLS teams in one Open Cup and the first USL club to make the Final since Charleston Battery did it in 2008. Sacramento also extend their home unbeaten streak in the tournament to 12 games which is the longest active streak.

In his post-game interview with ESPN+, the Jamaican said he needed to show Hernandez “he alone could not show off.”

Republic FC coach Mark Briggs said he couldn’t watch.

“I was looking at the ground,” he said afterwards, “and all I could hear was the emotion of the stadium and the fans, so all I heard was a big gasp. I thought he’d missed. But then the crowd erupted when he finally hit the net. I still haven’t seen it, but that’s my Maalique. You need characters in teams and Maalique is a character.  And to do what he did in that moment shows the quality and confidence he has in his own ability.”

Briggs left it up to Rodrigo Lopez to make the deciding penalty kick in the fifth round. Lopez, who starred on Republic FC’s championship team when it won the USL title in 2014, its first season, said after the win over the Galaxy in the quarterfinals that MLS didn’t want Sacramento to win.

“If you’re the MLS, you have to look at Sacramento,” he said following the 2-1 win in Carson. “You have to look at our fanbase and our city.”

Briggs said it’s irrelevant what happened last year when MLS pulled the plug on the 2023 Sacramento expansion team after lead investor Ron Burkle backed out of the deal, citing the Covid-19 pandemic as a reason for his withdrawal.

“We can’t control what happens to the future of the club,” said Briggs. “We can’t control whether we are in MLS or whether we’re in USL. Right now, that’s for other people to decide. We have a group of players that are representing this club, that are representing this city, that are representing this badge, and they’re doing it with pride and they’re doing it with passion.”

Vitiello, who grew up on Long Island and played at the University of Albany, joined Republic FC in 2022 after starting for Pittsburgh in the USL Championship in the last two months of 2020 and all of 2021.

“I came to this organization knowing that it’s a prestigious organization in this league,” he said. “MLS was never even a thought when I made the decision to come here. The organization is just incredible.”

Sacramento is just the third lower division team to beat three MLS teams in a single Open Cup campaign after the Rochester Rhinos, the last non-MLS team to win the Open Cup in 1999, and Minnesota Thunder in 2005. Republic FC has a chance to beat a fourth MLS team on Sept. 7 when it plays at Orlando City in the final.

“This is the epitome,” added Briggs. “This is the biggest night of my coaching career. And then to be going to Orlando, playing a final with a [Concacaf] Champions League spot at stake. Is this really happening? Fortunately for us, it’s reality.”

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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