Last night in Bridgeview, the Chicago Fire advanced to the Fifth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (USOC) with a victory over Louisville City FC. Frank Yallop’s squad was depleted due to international duty and fatigue from Saturday’s game at New England, but in the second period of extra time, a Quincy Amarikwa header was enough to see them through to the next round. Amarikwa was a pest the whole game, hoping to impress the coaching staff and compete for a starting spot in league play. Louisville was unlucky not to have an early lead after hitting the crossbar in the 21st minute, but in the end, a Fire team missing David Accam, Joevin Jones, Mike Magee and Kennedy Igboananike got the job done.
Shaun Maloney made his USOC debut when he came on at halftime. He unfortunately left the game with back spasms and is being evaluated by the team. His introduction into the match helped Chicago press hard for a goal in the second half, though they were not able to break through while he was on the pitch.
Here are some key takeaways from this Tuesday night showdown:
-Matt Polster looks good at center back.
The Fire have looked thin at center back all season, with Jeff Larentowicz and Adailton playing nearly every minute. Eric Gehrig looked poor in the 2-0 loss at Los Angeles and has not seen time at CB since then. Matt Polster is the natural choice to bolster the position seeing as he played CB through college, and he looked solid in this game. He was not caught out of position once, and his outstanding distribution gave Chicago confidence in possession. Going forward, it is good to know that Larentowicz or Adailton can be rested and Polster can step in. This also introduces the possibility of more squad rotation in the midfield- if Polster gets a couple games at CB, that’s an opening for Michael Stephens, or Matt Watson, or Chris Ritter (who had an outstanding game) to get the start in midfield.
-Sean Johnson wore the armband and looked solid.
With Jon Busch starting the last few league matches, this looked to be Johnson’s chance to shine. He played a confident, solid game and did not make any errors. It was a nice touch to have him wear the captain’s armband in this one. He was a veteran leader on the field, with more Fire experience than anyone else in the gameday 18. Having Johnson in form is a big plus for Chicago and he will be looking to regain his starting spot in the coming weeks.
-Chicago is actually capable of pushing the tempo in the second half.
After a seemingly endless run of games where the Fire imploded in the second half, it was refreshing to see them play with urgency from the 46th minute on. While the introduction of Maloney certainly helped, the entire team played quicker, and kept possession for long stretches even after he came off the field. Their persistence was rewarded with Amarikwa’s 116th minute goal, and a much-needed victory. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Men in Red can take this mentality into MLS play. The points are not going to earn themselves, and the fight this team showed last night after the first half needs to be there for 90 minutes every game.
This was a team victory and it was a very important one. A loss in the USOC would have turned most fans against the coaching staff. As it stands, a victory after three losses feels good for everyone involved no matter who the opponent is. Chicago’s depth in midfield showed tonight, with Matt Watson, Razvan Cocis, Chris Ritter, and Michael Stephens all playing. The next match for Chicago is June 24th against DC United at home, which is a massive Eastern Conference game which the Fire should consider a must-win.