The clock showed 60 and change when the skies opened up and the first drop of rain landed with a thud on the aluminum gangway. The referee had just made another bad call and the lady next to me asked if someone was spitting or if it was actually raining. In the middle of a historic drought and water restrictions enforceable by fines and jail time, it was a valid question. The next drop landed on my shoulder and I really was hoping that it wasn't spit. It wasn't.
The warm rain, lasting barely five minutes, was greeted with a huge cheer from the sellout crowd at Bonney Field. We had actually gone a bit quiet and subdued after a raucous first half that saw LA Galaxy II take a shock 2-0 lead. As time ebbed away and the Republic were failing to make any true progress towards the LA goal, spirits were understandably fading. It looked like the dream of reaching the USL Pro playoff final was dying just as the dream of getting that MLS bid was flourishing. But then the rain came. And the penalty kicks came.
The first one was legitimate enough, the LA defender barging over our holding midfielder who was bursting into the box for whatever reason. Sacramento's first ever signing and second leading scorer Rodrigo Lopez dispatched it with ease. The second one looked harsh, but of course we screamed handball and the referee gave in (did I mention that he was not very good?). Ro-ro went high this time while the keeper dove the way the first penalty went and we were tied. There were five minutes left. And then five more minutes were added for stoppages.
And then, in the third minute of stoppage time, Sac won a free kick and up stepped Rodrigo one more time:
Amazing. Hat-trick for Lopez and SRFC are onto next Saturday's final! Indomitable.
FOOTBALL (all times BST):
13.30: Premier League, 13th vs. 11th: Leicester City vs. Manchester United
13.30: Premier League, 7th vs. 20th: Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Bromwich Albion
14.30: Bundesliga, 13th vs. 5th: Wolfsburg vs. Bayer Leverkusen
16.00: Premier League, 12th vs. 19th: Everton vs. Crystal Palace
16.00: Premier League, 6th vs. 1st: Manchester City vs. Chelsea (hey, that's us!)
18.00: Fortuna Liga, 7th vs. 4th: DAC vs. Slovan Bratislava
19.45: Serie A, 14th vs. 4th: Palermo vs. Internazionale
20.00: La Liga, 20th vs. 1st: Levante vs. Barcelona
20.00: Ligue 1, 6th vs. 16th: PSG vs. Olympique Lyonnais