Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Amidst Open Cup Controversy, Chicago Fire’s Youth Step Up

SeatGeek Stadium View Before the Chicago Fire-St. Louis CITY SC Match

This year’s U.S. Open Cup has been the subject of intense controversy over the last two months. A standoff between U.S. Soccer and MLS saw the latter enter only eight of its teams in the cup, drawing immediate backlash. One of the big-name clubs deprived of a shot at the trophy is Chicago Fire FC, a four-time champion of the competition. In the first team’s place, the club is being represented by its MLS NEXT Pro side, Chicago Fire II. Political drama and media debate continues to unfold off the pitch. On the pitch, Fire II are making the most of their newfound opportunity.

Chicago Fire II Making the Most of Open Cup Debut

What Exactly is Going on with the Cup?

On December 15th, 2023, Major League Soccer announced the withdrawal of its clubs from the 2024 edition of the Open Cup. It was a monumental decision on the league’s part, and it cited “schedule congestion” as a major concern. For starters, it came mere months before the competition’s scheduled start, and well after the completion of the qualifiers. Furthermore, MLS had entered all of its teams in the cup every year beginning in 1996. Since then, an MLS side has won every edition except for 1999, when the Rochester Rhinos rose to the throne.

READ MORE: MLS NEXT Pro Announced: What Impact Will The New League Have?

U.S. Soccer hurriedly blocked MLS’ motion to withdraw entirely, and the two organizations reached an impasse. After two months of constant deliberation, a compromise was reached – MLS entered its eight best-performing teams from the 2023 regular season in the cup, excluding those competing in the Concacaf Champions Cup. Meanwhile, 11 MLS NEXT Pro teams are making their competition debuts. Nine are MLS affiliates, including Fire II.

The Fire and the Open Cup: A Love Story

For a club like the Fire, being deprived of a cup berth certainly feels like a slap in the face. Chicago is one of the Open Cup’s most successful clubs, winning four titles between 1998 and 2006. While it’s been a long time since the club last won the trophy, the players, staff, and especially the fans hold the competition in high regard. The single-game knockout format means that the Open Cup is a lower-half MLS team’s biggest chance at silverware. Just last year, the Fire reached the quarterfinals, where they fell to eventual champions Houston Dynamo. They would have hoped for an even deeper run this time around.

Fire II hadn’t previously participated in the Open Cup prior to 2024, on account of the tournament’s rule prohibition of reserve teams. Instead, in its two-year history, the reserve team has competed solely in MLSNP, posting a 17-10-18 record and making one playoff appearance across two seasons. The start of the 2024 campaign presented a new challenge for Ludovic Taillandier’s squad, as they sought to simultaneously manage competing in the league and experiencing the magic of the cup for the first time. So far, they’ve risen to the challenge.

Fire II Have Goal-Fest to Start Campaign

One of U.S. Soccer’s more popular reforms for the Open Cup in recent years has been regionalized matchups. In the early rounds especially, plenty of city derbies happen around the country. This held true in round one of the 2024 tournament, as Fire II were drawn against amateur side Chicago City. As far as amateur teams go, Chicago City are no joke. They won USL League Two’s Heartland Division in 2023 and advanced to the Central Conference semifinals in the postseason. Moreover, City took their first Open Cup appearance very seriously, collaborating with UPSL side Chicago Nation to create an amateur super-team.

Fire II, on the other hand, rolled out a very young starting lineup for the clash at SeatGeek Stadium. Six of the 11 men on the pitch for the hosts were under the age of 21, and four were teenagers. The youngest, midfielder Vitaliy Hlyut, is just 15 years old. Despite their lack of experience, the youngsters dominated from start to finish. An early own goal opened the floodgates for Fire II, and they never took their foot off the gas en route to a 6-0 victory. 16-year-old Giovanni Granda took the shot in the lead-up to the first goal, then added a second on the stroke of halftime. The goals kept flowing in the second half, with four different players getting on the scoresheet. The last one, remarkably, came from the 2008-born Vitaliy Hlyut.

Fire II Deliver Again in Round Two

For their impressive showing against fourth-tier opposition, the young Fire squad were rewarded with a matchup against third-tier Forward Madison. The ‘Mingos, as they’re affectionately nicknamed, have a long-standing cooperation with the Fire organization. Loans between the two clubs are common, and they’ve previously contested pre-season friendlies. This clash, however, was the exact opposite of a friendly. Coach Ludovic Taillandier was able to rely on a few Fire first-team players as his squad returned to SeatGeek for the second round this week.

Again, Fire II displayed immense maturity. They played a level-headed game: fluid in attack, rock-solid in defense. Madison were without a doubt the more experienced side in regards to the Open Cup, but it was Chicago who dictated the tempo when the two sides clashed. It was a match characterized by crisp, line-breaking passing between the Fire’s midfield and attack. The Men in Red were a constant threat to the Forward goal, and they did themselves the favor of scoring early once again. David Poreba made it two goals from two games in the Open Cup 11 minutes in, when he pounced on a loose ball in the box following a dangerous cross from Omari Glasgow. Poreba was one of the key offseason additions to the Fire’s MLSNP squad, while Glasgow was arguably the team’s best player in 2023.

Despite holding just a one-goal lead for much of the game, Chicago were firmly in control throughout. The defense was buoyed by the inclusion of Arnaud Souquet, a regular starter for the first team in 2023. 16-year-old goalkeeper Patrick Los was incredibly secure as well. The nail in Forward Madison’s coffin came in the 90th minute, when Jason Shokalook slotted a difficult finish into the bottom corner of the net to make it 2-0.

Making Chicago Proud: Fire II Poised for Deep Open Cup Run

READ MORE: Seven Thoughts On MLS Leaving Open Cup Potentially

One way or another, the Chicago Fire will deliver in the U.S. Open Cup. This city and this club cannot be deprived of cup magic for too long. This year, it’s the second team waving the flag for the Windy City, and what a job they’re doing. Two comfortable wins, two clean sheets, eight goals scored. They’ve dominated their way to the third round, and this is where things get interesting. Indy Eleven of the USL Championship are next for Fire II. It’ll be the first time ever that Chicago faces a higher-tier opponent in an official match. Should they withstand that test, the young squad could very well run into MLS opposition in the following rounds. Any future matches will likely involve a fair share of first-team players.

There’s something wonderfully poetic about this cup run. While soccer fans turn to activism, campaigning for the American soccer bureaucrats to “save the cup,” the Fire are doing their part. A whole city is behind a team of reserves, and there’s no telling as to what they may yet accomplish. Four points from two games in the league and a third round berth in the cup is the perfect start. A team of teenagers and 20-somethings are balancing the “schedule congestion” that MLS officials so often complain about. Fire II making it far in the famed, prestigious U.S. Open Cup would send quite the message to MLS – you can’t kill the cup.


Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports, of a SeatGeek Stadium Headshot, on May 9, 2023.


More Posts

Send Us A Message