U.S. Soccer is looking into allegations that an Orlando City employee spied on Sacramento Republic training on Monday, two days before the teams meet in the U.S. Open Cup final, sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed to Yahoo Sports.
ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman first reported the news on Tuesday night.
According to the sources, the Republic were training at a public field on Monday when, they say, they spotted a man — whom they later identified as an Orlando staffer — watching. One source said the man was on his phone, consistently taking notes, stepping away to take phone calls, and coming back to take more notes.
Sacramento, per the sources, alleges that it asked the man to move to another area of the park, but he wouldn't. ESPN and The Athletic reported that, despite multiple attempts by the Republic to get him to leave, he refused to for 30-45 minutes.
Republic players and coaches arrived in Orlando on Sunday. They chose to train on Monday at Central Winds Park, a sports complex in Winter Springs, Florida, about 25 minutes north of Orlando, per a source. They did so, the source said, because they'd "heard that Orlando is very good at the dark arts." They booked two fields specifically for the sake of privacy, and only trained on one.
ESPN reported that the Orlando staffer insisted he was at the park to meet a friend who was coaching at a nearby field. ESPN also reported that Sacramento staffers parked two vans in front of him to obstruct his view, at which point he moved to another location before departing.
Sacramento then trained Tuesday at Exploria Stadium, Orlando City's home stadium and the site of Wednesday's game. Stadium training sessions are typical on the day before matches. Two days before a match, however, is typically a team's most involved and important training session.
It's unclear what the penalty, if any, would be if U.S. Soccer's Open Cup committee finds wrongdoing. One source indicated that it could be a fine, but that it likely won't affect the game. Orlando City's former VP of communications, Diogo Kotscho, argued on Twitter that, "As the name says, Public Park is open to the public." Open Cup rules do not appear to specifically prohibit Orlando's alleged conduct.
In a statement, Orlando City said it "has been made aware of the matter regarding Sacramento's training session and is cooperating with U.S. Soccer." Sacramento has not commented.
The game kicks off at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+). The Republic, from the second-tier United Soccer League, are seeking to become the first non-MLS champion of the Open Cup since 1999. The Open Cup is American soccer's oldest competition, a 100-plus-team knockout tournament that any club, professional or amateur, can enter.