U.S. Open Cup Final analysis: How Orlando City finished off underdogs Sacramento Republic

Quick Hits
  • Sacramento Republic’s Cinderella run in the U.S. Open Cup came to an end on Wednesday night when they lost to Orlando City in the final
  • Today, we’re looking at what went wrong for Sacramento and how Orlando City turned things on in the second half en route to a trophy
Sep 7, 2022; Orlando, Florida, US;   Orlando City forward Benji Michel (19) reacts after scoring a goal against Sacramento Republic in the second half during the US Open Cup Final at Exploria Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
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It had been almost 15 years since a lower-division team made it to the U.S. Open Cup Final. That is, until the USL Championship’s Sacramento Republic broke the mold to square off with Orlando City in the title game on Wednesday night. Sacramento defeated three MLS opponents and never trailed en route to the final.

However, they couldn’t withstand Orlando City’s second half push and lost 3-0 to their MLS opponents. Let’s take a deeper look at the final to see where the game was won – and lost.

Mark Briggs' setup

At the start of Wednesday night’s game, Sacramento Republic manager Mark Briggs used a 3-4-3 shape with Maalique Foster as his No. 9. Yes, the same Foster who converted that audacious penalty in the semifinal shootout against Sporting Kansas City.

The early stages of the match were sluggish.

Keko, acquired by the Republic after a long stint in La Liga, excelled on the right side of Sacramento’s press. Orlando City built with left back Joao Moutinho deep and right back Ruan high, so the Spaniard’s presence was all the more important. It also became clear that Dan Casey, a central defender, was instructed to step into midfield whenever Facundo Torres or Mauricio Pereyra received the ball in transition. As a result, Orlando pushed Moutinho high and dropped Pereyra lower into the midfield to get the Uruguayan creator some much-needed touches. 

It was a chess match, of sorts, between Briggs and Orlando manager Oscar Pareja.

Sacramento’s Luis Felipe tracked Pereyra well, and Orlando’s shift did little to spark their attack. Ironically, Orlando’s best first-half chance came when they took a more positive approach in the midfield and pushed holding man Cesar Araujo high to wreak havoc in the press in the 42nd minute. 

Still, the match was scoreless at halftime and neither team had a shot on target.

Sacramento’s approach

Things were chippy at the start of the second half, and both managers stuck to their guns without a substitution or major tactical shift. 

An Orlando City chance in the 53rd minute summed up the start of the second half quite nicely. Ivan Angulo pressed hard from the left wing for Orlando, won the ball, and drove into Sacramento’s half. From there, Torres and Ruan linked nicely, but the Republic’s back three retained perfect spacing, and Ruan’s cross sailed across the box, eliminating any potential danger.

In truth, Sacramento rarely looked dangerous in the attack, choosing to play long on goal kicks to keep the ball in their opponent’s half. In the USL Championship, the Republic play on the ground from restarts more than all but seven teams in the league, but they tried to avoid turnovers in their own half by going direct against Orlando. The change in style played into the California club’s defensive strengths, but limited the influence of star creators like Rodrigo Lopez, who thrive on the ball.

When changes finally came, both clubs tweaked their frontlines. Benji Michel came on at striker for Ercan Kara for Orlando, and Douglas Martinez spelled Keko to give Briggs a two-forward look. That ostensible burst from Martinez, however, was rarely felt as Orlando continued to dominate possession even without creating a crazy number of chances.

But then the dam finally broke in the 75th minute. 

Michel’s fresh legs paired with another spirited spell of pressure from Angulo forced a Sacramento turnover after the visitors pushed their wing backs up the field in an attempt to break down Orlando. After Orlando won possession, Torres found the ball at the top of the box and curled a lovely strike into the top corner.

Moments later, Sacramento triggered a double substitution and clearly lost their sense of chemistry. Orlando played a ball over the top and between Michel’s pace and poor positioning from the Republic’s backline, Michel collected the ball behind the defense. One sloppy tackle and penalty kick later, and Torres had a brace for Orlando City.

In added time, Torres linked with Michel once more. A Homegrown Player nearing his 100th appearance for Orlando, Michel truly changed the match, and he clinically slid a shot into the back of the net on the counter. By that point, Sacramento’s defense was well and truly structureless, providing a stark contrast to the strong 5-4-1 that we saw from Briggs’ team in earlier rounds of the tournament. 

Ultimately, Orlando City never looked back from that first goal on the road. They earned a 3-0 victory and are deserved Open Cup winners.

Zooming out

Despite the loss, Sacramento absolutely have to hold their heads high. It’s incredible that the Republic reached these heights given the massive financial differences between MLS and the USL. 

The Republic missed the playoffs in the USL last season but after a smart rebuild, a deep playoff run isn’t out of the question this year. And though he didn’t truly impact the final, Rodrigo Lopez’s return to Sacramento has galvanized the entire city. 

On another day, maybe things break differently. Either way, Sacramento Republic deserve credit for their deep cup run.