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Sacramento is in the Open Cup final after beating another Major League Soccer team

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Sacramento's soccer dream is alive. On last night's program, we told you about Sacramento Republic FC. It is a second division men's professional team, but it made the semifinals of the country's oldest soccer tournament, the U.S. Open Cup. The other three teams were from the top division, Major League Soccer. And now, Sac Republic is in the final after another thrilling victory. NPR's Tom Goldman was there.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: After battling mightily last night for two hours - 90 minutes regulation, 30 minutes extra time - Sac Republic and Sporting Kansas City still were scoreless. The contest to determine who goes to the U.S. Open Cup final would be decided by penalty kicks. It seemed like a crummy way to end an epic contest until it wasn't.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Now shooting for the Republic FC, Rodrigo Lopez.

GOLDMAN: Could there be any better finish? Fan favorite Rodrigo "RoRo" Lopez lined up a kick that could win the match, a fitting moment for the 5-foot-7 team captain who led second division Sac Republic on its improbable run through the tournament. The ball hit the center of the net as the KC goalkeeper dived to his right. Joaquin Castaneda was part of the sellout crowd of more than 11,500 that exited the Sacramento stadium wide-eyed and amped up.

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JOAQUIN CASTANEDA: This tells you right here - Sacramento is a soccer football team. We're like a small, big town, but we got a big heart.

GOLDMAN: And a big message - lower division teams can compete with the best; beat the best, in fact. Sacramento has beaten the last three MLS teams it's played in this tournament. And it's another sign of men's soccer evolving with more talent and youth programs. Sac Republic is one of many teams with a youth academy that have helped cultivate the talent at earlier ages. Sac Republic, like the city it represents, has reveled in its underdog status. But the team's success is not fueled by emotion alone. The players, head coach Mark Briggs said last night, have shown great togetherness and quality in critical moments.

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MARK BRIGGS: The guys are comfortable when they're uncomfortable. That's what gets us through these games.

GOLDMAN: Sac Republic goalkeeper Danny Vitiello was one of those guys fending off numerous shots all night. His diving block of a KC penalty kick was a huge, and he says, lucky moment that set up Lopez's heroics.

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DANNY VITIELLO: Penalties are a lottery. You know, you gotta dive the right way.

GOLDMAN: So far, Sac Republic has done everything the right way, showing the soccer world the men's game in this country is thriving, not just at the highest levels. On September 7, Sac Republic plays MLS team Orlando City for the U.S. Open Cup title. Sacramento is the first lower division team to get to the final since 2008, with the chance to become the first non-MLS champion since 1999. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Sacramento. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.