SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento to MLS has been a long time coming, and folks around the city and Republic FC are proud to embrace that fact.
Often left as the bridesmaid but never the bride, Sacramento was awarded an expansion franchise in MLS on Monday, No. 29 as the expansion boom continues. For those around the club and city, it caps a journey they never stopped believing in.
"Today is a day we weren't waiting for, we were fighting for," owner Matt Alvarez said on stage at The Bank in downtown Sacramento alongside fellow owners Ron Burkle and Kevin Nagle, MLS commissioner Don Garber as well as Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg and California governor Gavin Newsom as the city were officially awarded an expansion team.
It was a party in downtown Sacramento as supporters draped in Republic FC scarves populated the streets before packing the venue to bring passion, emotion and noise — oh so much noise — to proceedings. They screamed in applause at every chance and broke into chants whenever the moment allowed for it. They even used an empty garbage can as a proxy for a drum for the full gameday experience.
"When is today," Garber said to that sea of bellowing Sacramento supporters, referring back to 2015 when he said it was a matter of "when, not if" Sacramento would get an MLS franchise. "The Republic had just joined USL while New York City FC and Orlando City SC had just joined Major League Soccer. That's how long these discussions have been going on. It's important to note there has literally been five years of dedication, fortitude, faith by so many people."
Many of those people Garber referred to were in the room and alongside him on stage, including Mayor Steinberg.
"This was a five-year journey with ups and downs but [Garber] always took my phone call," Mayor Steinberg said of the long journey to MLS. "Most importantly, he always believed in our city and our community. From the bottom of my city's heart, thank you for believing in us."
Sacramento's MLS ambitions have been well-documented after they launched as a USL team in 2014, and they were one of 12 groups to submit an expansion application in January 2017. However, they saw Cincinnati, Nashville, Miami, St. Louis and Austin all confirmed as new MLS cities ahead of them.
In January of this year, Sacramento's expansion bid got imbued with new energy when Burkle, a technology, retail and hospitality entrepreneur, movie producer and owner of NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, joined the club as lead investor, alongside Nagle who has been leading the bid throughout their long journey to the league.
"It's personally gratifying, it's professionally gratifying," Nagle said. "I really feel like I'm David in David vs. Goliath. When we hit a little rough spot in 2017, I knew it wasn't over. I knew we'd have to re-work some things. Today, it's a great feeling that we have and I'm excited for tomorrow, because it's only going to get better."
The afternoon kept going back to the fans and not just because they were too loud to ignore. On stage, every speaker took a detour to thank those supporters for their passion and determination.
"I want to get my picture taken with you guys!" Mayor Steinberg said while pointing to the fans who filled the room with cheers. "I can't stop smiling."
"It's a wonderful thing to walk into a room like this with a great sense of pride and spirit, as the people from every single walk of life are coming together," Governor Newsom added. "So, thank you to the fans and thank you to [Republic FC] leadership."
After years of trying, Sacramento to MLS will soon be a reality.
"Sacramento, I know you've waited a long time for this," the afternoon's emcee Stu Holden opened the celebration with. Well, the wait for their day is over and now focus shifts to joining MLS in their brand new, 20,100-seat soccer stadium in the downtown Railyards District in 2022.