Second-half substitute Wilson Kneeshaw scored in the 80th minute Saturday night to rally Republic FC to a 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy II at Bonney Field and earn Sacramento a first-round home playoff game.
Despite tying a franchise record by extending its unbeaten streak to 10 matches, Sacramento (13-6-10, 49 points) lost the advantage in its bid to finish atop the USL’s Western Conference.
The Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC also have 49 points after their 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Saturday. Colorado Springs (14-8-7) holds the tiebreaker with one more win.
Sacramento plays at the last-place Tulsa Roughnecks FC next Saturday in the regular-season finale. Colorado Springs closes its season against the Orange County Blues FC on Saturday.
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Sacramento will open the playoffs 7:30 p.m. Oct 1 at home against an opponent to be determined.
Before an announced sellout crowd of 11,569, the rivalry between Los Angeles (11-7-11, 44 points) and Republic FC got a little hotter.
Republic FC coach Paul Buckle and Los Angeles coach Curt Onalfo had to be warned by referee Victor Rivas after they got into an argument on the sideline midway through the second half in a game that had 40 fouls, 20 for each team.
“It just proves how important the game was and how hard we’ve worked this season,” Buckle said. “I wanted to support my team. The problem, for which Curt has apologized, (is) they had the ball when their player is down. Anyone who knows football, if their player is on the floor and they have the ball, they have the right to kick it out and get into the training room.
“They chose not to. They chose to challenge our goal, lose it, and they expect us to kick it out. So that was what the problem was.”
Los Angeles played a man down from the 75th minute when midfielder Bryam Rebellon was sent off after getting his second yellow card for elbowing Republic FC midfielder Danny Barrera.
It all happened in a smoky haze, the result of a nearby fire on the American River Parkway near the Cal Expo stadium earlier in the afternoon.
Kneeshaw scored on a putback after Cameron Iwasa’s blast was blocked by goalkeeper Clement Diop. But the shot was too hot for Diop to haul in.
It gave Kneeshaw back-to-back game-saving goals against the Galaxy II. The recent signing from England came off the bench last Saturday to score the equalizing goal in the 83rd minute of Republic FC’s 1-1 draw in Carson.
“Obviously I’m happy to come on again and score,” Kneeshaw said. “A typical striker finish. I could see Cam was lining up to shoot. ... Luckily the keeper parried it out to me, and I slid it into the corner.”
Former English Premier League standout Carlton Cole, who played a total of 21 minutes in his two previous games, came on in the 58th minute for Matt LaGrassa and was involved in several plays in the box but could was held scoreless.
The Galaxy’s goal came in the 45th minute when Ethan Zubak scored on a back-heeled, near-post shot from a Jose Villarreal cross.
This was the fourth meeting this season between the sides; Republic FC won once and tied the Galaxy II three times.
Republic FC is 4-0-2 all-time against Los Angeles in Carson but remains at .500 at home, where the teams are 3-3-2, including playoffs.