Soccer

Republic FC faces major-league opponent – with minor exceptions – in U.S. Open Cup

Republic FC Danny Barrera, left, and Orange County Blues FC Andrae Campbell fight for the ball during a USL Western Conference playoff game on Oct. 1, 2016, in Sacramento.
Republic FC Danny Barrera, left, and Orange County Blues FC Andrae Campbell fight for the ball during a USL Western Conference playoff game on Oct. 1, 2016, in Sacramento. Special to The Bee

Playing Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer may be easier on Republic FC than playing their USL rivals – the Real Monarchs SLC – who lead the league in points (33), goals scored (30) and goal differential (19).

Sacramento (4-6-3 USL) plays the MLS side Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Papa Murphy’s Park in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It’s the first time Republic FC has hosted an MLS team in a match other than a friendly. Republic FC is 0-2 against MLS teams in U.S. Open Cup play, both losses coming to the San Jose Earthquakes. But Sacramento is catching a Real Salt Lake side reeling from a series of blowout losses.

Real Salt Lake (4-10-2 MLS) is one point from the bottom of the Western Conference and has, by far, the largest goal differential in the MLS at minus-22. Since April 22, Real Salt Lake is 2-7 and has been outscored 27-6. The team has given up 11 goals in its last two matches.

Conversely, the Monarchs are on a USL-record-tying eight-match winning streak and are 11-1 overall. Many of the top Monarchs are expected to play Wednesday for Real Salt Lake, whose lineup will be released just before game time. The MLS squad has a game Saturday at home against Minnesota United FC.

“They’re going to be bigger and better than us and we’ll have to be really right to compete,” Republic FC coach Paul Buckle said. “We’re not fearful at all. We have to concentrate on ourselves and take the game to them, because that’s when we’re at our best.”

“This Monarchs team is one of the most talented rosters in the USL and they’re hungry,” Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke said. “We know Sacramento will be hungry, too, and this is a huge game for them.”

Petke said he’ll promote some Monarchs for the match and play most of his reserves against Sacramento.

“I don’t believe or consider us a favorite (Wednesday), and the only reason people say we’re the favorite is because we are an MLS organization,” Petke said. “Sacramento is a very good, hardworking, talented group and they have a major-league environment. They’ll be completely up for this. Traditionally, there have been tons of upsets in this tournament because one team gets up for it and the other doesn’t.”

The last non-MLS squad to win the U.S. Open Cup was the 1999 Rochester Rhinos, who beat the Colorado Rapids. Republic FC midfielder and captain Danny Barrera played for Cal FC in 2012 when the amateur side beat the Portland Timbers 1-0 in extra time.

“That’s definitely a game I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said Barrera, who had the game-winning assist to Artur Aghasyan in the 95th minute. “We had never trained together before and had to win a tournament just to qualify for the Cup. But we clicked immediately.”

Cal FC lost to the Seattle Sounders in the next round, a squad led by Republic FC striker Sammy Ochoa.

“Yeah, Sammy makes sure I remember that game, too,” Barrera said.

Barrera has been talking with his teammates about Wednesday’s match since Saturday’s lackluster 2-0 loss to host Reno 1868 FC.

“I explained to them that this is a wonderful opportunity to expose their game, to show that they can play at that (MLS) level,” Barrera said. “I have no doubt that we can win.”

The winner of Wednesday’s match advances to the Round of 16 to be played either June 27 or 28. Home sites will be determined by a coin flip.

Mark Billingsley: editorwriter@att.net, @editorwriter001

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