And Republic F.C.’s run to the Cup finals has raised anew a sense of what’s possible among Sacramento’s typically devoted sports fans. The club’s pulsating semifinal win over Sporting Kansas City, which was decided by a thrilling penalty kick shootout, was played before a wild sellout crowd of 11,500. “I think many of them came because they realized we had a chance to show the M.L.S. that they made a mistake,” said Brad Hill, 37, a Republic season ticket-holder who has followed the club since its inception in 2014.
During the Kings’ run of success in the early 2000s, Sacramento fans locked onto the Los Angeles Lakers as their rivals, only to be met with studied indifference or casual insult by Los Angeles stars, including Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
Republic F.C.’s run has tapped into that emotion. “Our players go out there and have a chip on their shoulder, something to prove, and I think that’s very representative of Sacramento,” said Todd Dunivant, the team’s president and general manager, himself a five-time M.L.S. champion during his playing days. “As a city, as a region, we’re not the first thought when you think of California, but we’re proud of what we do and who we are.”
The club will need that attitude Sept. 7, when it travels to face M.L.S. power Orlando City SC in the tournament finals. Win or lose, though, it has already provided Sacramento’s tortured fans with a surprising, upbeat moment in another long sports year.
“There’s a thirst for a winner here, and there’s a fire in the belly to get an M.L.S. team,” said Francis Avoce, 24, who played high school soccer in nearby Davis, participated in Republic F.C.’s first academy development class of young talent, and has spent the past two years competing internationally. “It’s the message it sends to the rest of the country: Sacramento belongs here.”
Mark Kreidler was The Sacramento Bee’s lead sports columnist for 15 years and has lived in the Sacramento area for three decades.