“It’s amazing, man, it’s something I can’t explain my feelings,” said Sacramento’s Rodrigo Lopez, who was named Most Valuable Player after a standout performance that included the assist on Guzman’s game-winning goal. “When the whistle blew, I just teared up, just from joy because of the hard work I’ve put in, that we’ve put in throughout the year. It’s very deserved by my teammates.”
The game opened at a frenetic pace, and Sacramento came close to an opening goal in just the second minute when Justin Braun couldn’t quite finish a cross from the right. Republic FC continues to probe down the flanks, and produced a big chance in the 11th minute when a cross from the left was punched clear by Harrisburg goalkeeper Nick Noble, with the follow-up by Max Alvarez blocked on the goal line by Coady Andrews.
Sacramento again went close in the 15th minute when Braun was played in beautifully by Lopez on an angled pass into the penalty area. Braun’s shot beat Noble, but caromed off the left post and was cleared to safety, keeping the game scoreless.
Harrisburg settled in, however, and had a big chance to take the lead on the half-hour mark as they broke forward on the right. A curling cross by Morgan Langley found Antoine Hoppenot eight yards out, but his header was brilliantly saved by Sacramento goalkeeper Jake Gleeson. Langley also had a big chance a minute later as he beat the offside trap, but elected to try and pass to Hoppenot rather than shoot, and Republic FC’s defense was able to clear.
The missed opportunities came back to haunt Harrisburg when Sacramento took the lead nine minutes before the break. Lopez was again the architect, as he chipped a pass forward that found Octavio Guzman breaking from midfield, and finished his chance clinically into the right corner from the top of the penalty area.
Braun almost added a second two minutes later as he won a 50-50 with Harrisburg’s Richie Marquez, only to shoot over the crossbar from 20 yards, but Republic FC would maintain its lead until the halftime break.
Braun almost added a second two minutes later as he won a 50-50 with Harrisburg’s Richie Marquez, only to shoot over the crossbar from 20 yards, but Republic FC maintained its lead until the halftime break.
Sacramento opened the second half on the front foot, and Mickey Daly went close to a second with a flick three minutes after the break. Braun continued to be a threat, and sent a curling shot wide of the top-left corner, and put pressure on the Harrisburg back four as they tried to possess the ball.
Harrisburg had a good spell midway through the second half, as Richie Marquez had a header go just wide of the right post of the right from Jamiel Hardware’s free kick. McLaughlin also threatened, but was repelled well by Daly and Nemanja Vuković as he attacked at pace. Vuković in particular lived up to his USL PRO Defender of the Year billing, as his was another excellent performance in a game full of them for Republic FC.
“The thing it, it’s a group effort,” Republic FC coach Preki said. “Everybody is responsible, everybody was committed on every single play. Yeah, we made a couple of mistakes, but that’s going to happen because we’re an attacking team, we’re going forward, we’re pushing forward, and we’re creating chances. That’s what people want to see, that’s what I want to see, attacking football, and at the end of the day it paid off.”
Republic FC continued to carve out chances, however, and could have doubled their lead in the 68th minute as Lopez found space just inside the penalty area, only to send his shot over the crossbar. Stewart also went close on multiple occasions after coming on a second-half substitute, the best with eight minutes to go as he rounded Noble, but sent his finish high from the left side of the penalty area.
Harrisburg pushed forward for one final hurrah, and Robbie Derschang had an appeal for a handball waved away in the penalty area in the 89th minute. Republic FC almost became their own worst enemies a minute later as Emrah Klimenta’s header back was clawed away for a corner by Gleeson to prevent an own goal, but in stoppage time Stewart would put the game away and seal the championship.
For Lopez, the club’s first official signing, the victory capped a brilliant first season for the ambitious young club.
“It means a lot,” Lopez said. “Being in USL PRO, it’s such a competitive league now, and to be here and win a championship in such a competitive league, it says a lot, and hopefully MLS sees the hard work that everyone’s putting in here.”
Scoring Summary: SRFC: Octavio Guzman (Rodrigo Lopez) 36, Thomas Stewart (James Kiffe) 90.
Misconduct Summary: HCI: Morgan Langley (caution) 46; SRFC: Steven Evans (caution) 90
Sacramento Republic FC – Jake Gleeson; Emrah Klimenta, Mickey Daly, Nemanja Vuković, James Kiffe; Octavio Guzman (Thomas Stewart 62), Ivan Mirković, Max Alvarez (Gilberto 57), Rodrigo Lopez; Adam Jahn (Gabe Gissie 80), Justin Braun (Steven Evans 89).
Harrisburg City Islanders – Nicholas Noble; Coady Andrews, Matt Bahner, Richie Marquez, Neil Shaffer (Garret Pettis 84); Jose Barril (Cristhian Hernandez 77), Yann Ekra, Jamiel Hardware (Robbie Derschang 68); Morgan Langley, James McLaughlin.