Throughout its history, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament has been a great opportunity for local rivals to go up against each other, but rarely has the competition between teams been as personal as Wednesday evening when Sonoma County Sol travel to Sacramento Republic FC for a key second round match (7:30 p.m. PT, LIVE on SacRepublicFC.com).
Not only are the two teams based in close proximity in Northern California, but they share a family connection as well: Chris Daly plays midfield for his hometown Sol, while younger brother Mickey is a standout defender for Republic FC.
“This game is going to be another chapter in the Daly family soccer story,” said Chris. “We are going to compete as hard as we can against each other on the field, and afterward off the field we will share that experience.”
Mickey concurred, and added that the experience will be somewhat surreal for him, given the Sol was the first club team he played for, side by side with his older brother Chris, before embarking on his professional career.
“I’m looking forward to it, especially because I’ve played with so many of the guys on the other team,” said Mickey. “There’s a lot of excitement going around with my family and friends.”
Mickey Daly celebrates scoring for Sacramento Republic against Portland Timbers 2 in USL league play this season.
Both teams enter the game having started their seasons well. Sonoma County returns to the Bay Area following two wins on the road and sits in first place in the NPSL West region. Sacramento is riding its own two-game win streak and owns top spot in the USL Western Conference. The tournament provides the perfect opportunity for each to parlay its league success into a run at the Dewar Cup (the official name of the U.S. Open Cup trophy).
“The Open Cup, for us amateur teams, really puts us on more of a national stage,” said Chris. “To be able to go two hours away to Sacramento and show them we are a great team is going to be awesome.”
As is often the case, lower league teams look at matchups against bigger clubs as a measuring stick, while the favored big sides do what they can to avoid upsets so they can advance in the competition.
“We want to go far,” said Mickey. “Not only do we want to win in our league, but also be the last USL team in the tournament. We want to compete against some MLS teams, maybe even upset a couple, and see where we stand against them.”
Republic FC is no stranger to success. In 2014, the club’s first year of existence, the team captured the USL PRO championship. In last year's U.S. Open Cup, they narrowly lost to the San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 in the Fourth Round. The Sacramento squad gets its bite from its head coach and philosophical leader, Preki, who, as a former profession player himself, won the tournament as a member of the 2004 Kansas City Wizards.
Former U.S. MNT and MLS star Preki, now at the helm of USL side Sacramento Republic FC, hopes to recreate the success he found as a player with his current squad.
“He doesn’t have to tell us about his accomplishments and his stats,” said Mickey. “Everyone respects him, and when he says something to us, we take it fully and learn from it and get better.”
Preki boasts a resume that also includes the 2000 MLS Cup with the Wizards, as well as two MLS MVP and two Golden Boot awards, and he is still the league's all-time leader in points with 270 (79 goals, 112 assists). Prior to leading Republic FC, he had head coaching stints with Toronto FC and Chivas USA. Known to demand a lot of his charges, Preki brought his touted strong mentality and professionalism to this brand-new USL club.
“We have established certain standards here from the first day,” said Preki. “Our players understand that every day in training is important, never mind every game. They understand the task we have, they understand the preparation, and the group knows what’s at stake.”
It may only be an early round game in the tournament, but Preki expects that no matter who he calls on to take the field, they will treat the match against Sonoma County as if it was a cup final.
“We want to have the habit of winning,” said Preki. “Every trophy is important, every game is important, and this one is no different. We will go into that game with that mentality.”
And that importance will stretch down to the Daly brothers as well, who within minutes of the Sol’s advancement in round one, were on their phones calling and texting competitive messages. In all their years playing soccer, Chris and Mickey have never faced each other on the field, something Chris described as “crazy”, but neither player expects to go easy on the other.
“I’ve watched him come so far,” said Chris, five years older than Mickey. “Now when I see him play, I’m in awe. He’s such a complete player; I don’t see a weakness I can go after. I am so proud of him.”
“We both work so hard,” said Mickey, eager to see his brother step into the spotlight at Bonney Field, “So for him to get the experience to play in front of a big crowd, with me on the other side of the field, is going to be very special.”
And no matter the result Wednesday night, the Daly family will celebrate a winner.