SACRAMENTO, Calif. – If the Sacramento Republic are hoping to follow Orlando City’s path into Major League Soccer, they’re following the blueprint to a T.
Behind a Man of the Match performance from former Chivas USA and Portland Timbers midfielder Rodrigo Lopez, the Republic wrapped their debut season on Saturday night by winning the USL PRO championship game, 2-0 over the giant-killing Harrisburg City Islanders, in front of sell-out crowd of 8,000 at Bonney Field.
Lopez, a finalist for the USL PRO MVP award, assisted on the winning goal in the 36th minute with a gorgeous chip to Octavio Guzman for the finish. Tommy Stewart added an insurance tally in second-half stoppage time.
Lopez’s former Chivas USA teammate, Justin Braun, also had a strong performance, hitting the woodwork twice in the first half. Portland loanee goalkeeper Jake Gleeson, meanwhile, made three solid saves in the victory.
The championship wraps a remarkable debut campaign for the Republic, who have made their intentions clear that they’re seeking to become an MLS expansion team. The club shattered the USL PRO attendance record — previously held by Orlando City — with 158,107 fans attending regular-season games here at Bonney Field and at 20,000-capacity Hughes Stadium.
Sacramento finished second in the USL PRO table behind Orlando, who will make the jump to MLS in 2015. Coached by former MLS great Preki, the Republic enjoyed a star turn from Lopez, who scored 10 goals and bagged eight assists in the regular season, and netted a hat trick in the team’s come-from-behind victory over LA Galaxy II in the semifinals last weekend.
The Republic this season also enjoyed the contributions of their loanees from MLS partner clubs San Jose and Portland. Gleeson started 17 regular-season games in goal for Sacramento and was a finalist for Goalkeeper of the Year, while Quakes forward Adam Jahn was the team’s third-leading scorer with six goals.
For Harrisburg, meanwhile, the dream playoff run came to an end. The Philadelphia Union affiliate entered the USL PRO playoffs as the final seed and upset No. 1-seeded Orlando in the quarterfinals, 1-0, behind a goal from Union loanee forward Antoine Hoppenot.
Sacramento join Orlando as the only two teams to win the USL PRO title in their first year. The club two weeks ago unveiled plans for an MLS-quality stadium in downtown Sacramento. MLS executives met with Republic officials last week to further discuss a first-division future.