The search for that elusive 5th U.S. Open Cup championship continues tonight when the Chicago Fire kick-off against the Rochester Rhinos at 6:35 PM CST at Sahlen's Stadium. In order to get some insider perspective on the Rochester Rhinos, we turn to Jeff Di Veronica of Devo's Direct Kicks. Jeff's answers will add to the picture but the overall landscape is the Fire face a very tough opponent in Rochester. The Rhinos currently sit in first place in the National Division of USL Pro. The home advantage is significant as the USL Pro side has only given up one goal in 6 games at Sahlen's Stadium and is 4-0-2 for their overall efforts. The Rhinos also take the U.S. Open Cup quite seriously to the point that they regularly upset MLS squads in the tournament and became the only non-MLS team to win the USOC in the MLS era in 1999. It's a shame that these two quality USOC organizations have to play early in the tournament while the trophy-less New York Red Bulls play a mediocre FC New York team that was only founded in 2009. If the Fire or the Rhinos snooze for a minute tonight, the opposition will take advantage. Jeff's answer to my first question is below and the rest of the questions in the exchange are after the break. For even more information and background on Rochester, peruse through Devo's Direct Kicks. Di Veronica has been covering the Rochester soccer team for the Democrat and Chronicle since 1996 and represents a vast wealth of knowledge on the club's current form as well as their history.
Hot Time In Old Town asks Devo's Direct Kicks
1. Who are the main offensive threats that Fire fans should pay extra attention to when the ball is on their feet?
Second-year pro Andrew Hoxie is a 6-foot-4 forward whose 3 goals lead the team. He has shifty moves in the box for his size and Kendall Jagdeosingh is a burner who can get in behind defenses. Out of the midfield, the Rhinos look for Tony Donatelli to make things happen and Tyler Rosenlund also likes to get forward into the attack and is an aggressive player. JC Banks, a rookie, also might be the most creative player the Rhinos have. He is out of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, trained in the spring with Toronto FC and his Dad, Jimmy, played for the U.S. national team in the late 1980s. Banks also has 3 goals.
2. The Rochester Rhinos will be playing their 5th game in 14 days when they square off against the Fire on Tuesday. With the most recent game being this past Saturday, what role will fatigue play in the starting XI selection and the overall performance of Rochester?
Just as he did last year, coach Bob Lilley has done a masterful job juggling the lineup during a heavy schedule. The team isn't scoring as much as he or the players would like, but much like the Fire lately they've been solid defensively as former LA Galaxy defender Troy Roberts anchors the back line with another ex-LA player, Quavas Kirk. Rochester keeper Neal Kitson has posted 4 shutouts in his past 6 matches and might be playing the best he has in his 2-year pro career.
3. What does the U.S. Open Cup mean to the Rhinos organization? What does the U.S. Open Cup mean to the Rhinos fanbase?
The Cup probably means MORE to this franchise than any other in the country. Really. That's simply because the Rhinos won the Cup in 1999 (with future MLS great Pat Onstad in goal) and fans haven't forgotten that magic. The team's second-year president, Pat Ercoli, coached the Rhinos during that run of upsetting four straight MLS sides and the club would LOVE to replicate that to energize a fanbase that isn't what it used to be in the late 1990s. I believe if the Rhinos can go on a similar run, which is a tall order for sure (think about it: no other lower-divison club has ever been able to do that since that stubborn group of Rhinos did it in 1999), it could win back a ton fans who don't think the caliber of play now is what it used to be.
Devo's Direct Kicks asks Hot Time In Old Town
1. Who are the main offensive threats that Rhinos' fans should pay extra attention to when the ball is on their feet?
The best offensive threat the Chicago Fire have right now is Marco Pappa. He plays on the left wing but will find a way to get into the center and up top with the forwards. If Pappa has the ball anywhere near the box, he needs to be stopped or the ball will almost certainly be put on frame. The same cannot be said about forwards Orr Barouch or Diego Chaves. Both players have shown an embarrassing preference for hitting the goal posts instead of actually scoring as of late. On the other hand, Dominic Oduro is a player that has a history of finishing issues but has made progress toward reversing that trend this year. Oduro isn't showing clinical polish but he does have four goals and looks more confident with his shooting.
Fellow Ghanaian Patrick Nyarko doesn't have much of a shot but is very effective at dribbling his way into dangerous positions. A classic example of the Fire's offense was on display against Portland in April when Nyarko dribbled around to create some space only to pass the ball to Pappa who was 5 feet away. Pappa sent a curling shot into the top corner of the net for a score. Pappa often has trouble creating that shot on his own. Nyarko has significant problems finishing those opportunities himself.
2. How has Frank Klopas tried to change the culture in his almost month on the bench?
The one thing that has seemingly improved under Frank Klopas is the team's defense. In Frank's six matches as coach, the opposition has only scored two goals. The one caveat here is Yamith Cuesta and Cory Gibbs have been his CB combo for every game and those two were finally coming together as the starters under former Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos. In addition Sean Johnson returned at the tail end of CDLC's reign and has looked like the 21 year old goalkeeper who received a USMNT cap in January the player. Johnson looked lost at the beginning of the year and picked up a minor injury for a couple of weeks. If the defense has thrived under Klopas, then he deserves equal blame for an offense that has stagnated to the tune of 3 goals in 6 games. Don't be surprised if tomorrow's game turns into a defensive battle and we head into penalty kicks with a 0-0 score in 120 minutes of play.
3. What does the U.S. Open Cup mean to the Fire organization? What does the U.S. Open Cup mean to the Fire fanbase?
If you would have asked me last year, I'm not sure how I would have answered what the U.S. Open Cup meant to the Fire organization. The Andrew Hauptman ownership era (summer of 2007 to present day) has not been all that kind to the USOC. In 2008 Chicago beat the Cleveland City Stars 4-1 at Toyota Park but then lost the bidding rights and the Quarterfinal matchup 2-1 to D.C. United at the Maryland Soccerplex. In 2009 the team lost hosting rights to the Wilmington Hammerheads despite the fact that the Hammerheads play in a 6,000 seat minor league baseball stadium. Chicago also lost the game by the score of 1-0. In 2010, the Fire hosted the Charleston Battery at Toyota Park but they lost that game in penalty kicks. The blame for on the field results can only go so far to the owner's box but losing the hosting rights to a baseball field and a soccer park in Maryland certainly won Hauptman and the front office no favors.
This year things have felt different and have been much more positive. The team sent out an E-mail to fans promising that they would aggressively pursue the hosting rights for all USOC games. Various front offices officials have all preached the value of the USOC and the important place it has in the team's history.
The USOC has always been very important to the fanbase since Chicago won the whole thing in the Fire's first year of existence. Some die-hards gauge the overall success of the club by how seriously the USOC is treated. To conclude while also getting back to your second question, Frank Klopas recently said it is time to get back to what the Fire use to be. The Fire use to win the U.S. Open Cup on a regular basis (1998, 2000, 2003, 2006). The Fire have started to take the USOC more seriously. Frank Klopas scored the overtime goal that gave the Chicago Fire their first USOC championship in 1998. It will be a storybook ending if Klopas can lead the team to their first trophy in 5 years. If that happens, the fans will rejoice and the Fire really will be what they use to be.