Photo courtesy of Sacramento Republic FC
Ahead of the 2016 USL Cup Final, Presented by Nike, we’re taking a look back at the five previous editions of the championship game. Check out the feature story, and remember to tune in this Sunday on ESPNU, the WatchESPN app, or SiriusXM FC 85 as the New York Red Bulls II host the Swope Park Rangers at 8 p.m. ET.
When Sacramento Republic FC launched in the summer of 2012, no one could have foreseen what was on the horizon for what has become one of the modern USL’s iconic clubs. After welcoming a then USL-record crowd of 20,231 fans to its home opener at Hughes Stadium, the side carried a wave of momentum into a second-place finish in the regular season, and the chance to host the 2014 USL Cup Final at its permanent home of Bonney Field.
That Sacramento had the chance to host was thanks to its opponent, the Harrisburg City Islanders. The last team to make the eight-team playoff field, Harrisburg had sprung one of the biggest surprises in USL Cup Playoffs history when it upended No. 1 seed Orlando City SC – then on the verge of its move to Major League Soccer – in the quarterfinals.
The City Islanders entered the game confident, too. They had been the visitors for Republic FC’s inaugural home opener, and had grabbed a 2-1 victory to somewhat spoil the party that night. With a handful of talented young attackers, including Jimmy McLaughlin and Morgan Langley, and midfielder Yann Ekra pulling the strings, the City Islanders had another upset in mind.
Republic FC, meanwhile, had pulled off a minor miracle to make the final itself. Trailing 2-0 to California rivals the LA Galaxy II at halftime of its semifinal, Sacramento stormed back behind a second-half hat trick by Rodrigo Lopez that included a stoppage-time winner that sent the capacity crowd at Bonney Field into a frenzy.
The positive momentum and buzz around the 8,000-seat stadium carried over to the following Saturday night, as Sacramento had the better of the final early on. City Islanders defender Coady Andrews had to make a goal-line clearance to keep the game scoreless in the 11th minute, but the host took the lead in the 36th minute when a cleverly chipped pass by Lopez played Octavio Guzman in behind the City Islanders defense, and his low finish made it 1-0 at the halftime break.
Harrisburg fought back in the second half as the game became an end-to-end contest. The City Islanders were unable to break through past Republic FC goalkeeper Jake Gleeson – then on loan from the Portland Timbers – as the big New Zealander made two crucial saves late on to keep his side ahead. The championship was sealed in stoppage time, though, when Tommy Stewart notched a second for Sacramento, and cemented a standout inaugural season in the Indomitable City.