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Chicago Fire's 2011 U.S. Open Cup Journey: How they got here and where we have been

Chicago Fire: we believe in you from coast to coast. Time to claim the ultimate prize.
Chicago Fire: we believe in you from coast to coast. Time to claim the ultimate prize.

On October 4, 2011, head coach Frank Klopas will lead the Chicago Fire to their 6th ever appearance in a U.S. Open Cup Final.  This 2011 U.S. Open Cup journey started over 6 months ago in Peoria.  Since then, a total of 25 players have been used in 4 different stadiums in 3 different time zones for a total of 5 advancing results.  Hot Time In Old Town writers but more importantly Chicago Fire fans Stephen Piggott, Tweed Thornton, Peter Bychowski, and Gregg Mixdorf look back at the crazy road it has been in first hand accounts.    

Stephen Piggott on Chicago Fire vs. Colorado Rapids, March 29, 2011, at Bradley University's Shea Stadium in Peoria, Illinois

Chicago Fire Lineup: Sean Johnson; Jalil Anibaba, Cory Gibbs, Yamith Cuesta (Dasan Robinson 59'), Gonzalo Segares; Patrick Nyarko, Michael Videira, Logan Pause, Davis Paul; Gaston Puerari, Diego Chaves (Orr Barouch 89')

It's always interesting when your team plays a "home" match in another stadium. The Fire have used this experiment in the U.S. Open Cup over the past few years with an early round match played in Peoria, IL. Fire fans were out in full force however even though the Chicago based ones had to travel 3 hours south to catch the match. The Fire didn't disappoint, winning 2-1 on a foggy night. Colorado fielded a weakened side and the Fire took full advantage with goals from the now departed Gaston Puerari and a 40 yard stunner from rookie Jalil Anibaba.

The first half was not one to remember but the Fire did get a goal seconds before halftime on the best piece of play in the half. Diego Chaves danced around one player before playing in Puerari who cut past a defender and into the box before neatly placing the ball in the bottom right hand corner. The Rapids got a goal right on the other side of halftime but the Fire were dominant throughout. Midway through the second half a thick "fog" hung above the field and this had a direct impact on the Fire's winner. Anibaba took the ball from the right wing and instead of crossing it from about 40 yards out, he shot it through the fog and somehow beat the keeper to score the Fire's goal of the season even though it was only their 3rd game. Fire team writer Jeff Crandall working as a co-commentator for the match summed up Anibaba's stunner best by stating, "Wow....I don't know what to say!"

The Fire held onto the lead to advance in what was one of the (very) few bright spots of the first half of the season. On the bus ride home, we could not stop talking about Anibaba's goal. Some fans maintain that the thick "fog" was actually smoke from a smoke bomb set off by some Section 8'ers in the middle of the second half but we all came to the conclusion that the "fog" in Peoria was a strange, but natural phenomena!

Tweed Thornton on Chicago Fire vs. San Jose Earthquakes, May 24, 2011, at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, California

Chicago Fire Lineup: Sean Johnson; Jalil Anibaba (Dominic Oduro 46'), Dasan Robinson (Cory Gibbs 88'), Yamith Cuesta, Gonzalo Segares; Bratislav Ristic, Logan Pause, Daniel Paladini, Marco Pappa; Cristian Nazarit, Gaston Puerari (Orr Barouch 46')   

It was dark.  Well, more of a blackout.  San Jose refused to stream this game online.  A mid-week USOC play-in game in Santa Clara, CA is a tough trip to justify and there were no more than a handful of Fire fans according to reports.  Few could stomach the 'Britishy' accent of the Earthquakes' announcer making a bad situation worse.

The game itself was even more depressing.  Chicago's regular season record was 1-4-5 at this point.  Philadelphia had just defeated the Fire 2-1 three days earlier.  Ellis McLoughlin opened San Jose's scoring in the 14th minute and Justin Morrow made it 2-0 San Jose just before halftime. With 30 minutes remaining, it seemed like there would be no playoffs this year, no U.S. Open Cup, and the Fire might be the worst team in MLS in 2011 with nothing to look forward to.

Orr Barouch decided that wasn't going to happen on his watch.  The 19 year-old was assisted by Gonzalo Segares and Daniel Paladini in the 61st minute of play.  There was life in this match yet.  15 minutes later, Yamith Cuesta sent Twitter, chat rooms, facebook, you name it ablaze when he scored the first header Fire goal of the year in MLS or U.S. Open Cup play.  The game went into overtime tied up 2-2.  Segares got a rare straight red for 'abusive language'.  San Jose could not take advantage of this odd call and got nothing from being up 11 to 10 for twenty minutes. We were headed to penalty kicks.  Again without any video, fans relied on San Jose's announcer for the call.  Each side went goal, miss, goal, goal, goal, until Daniel Paladini made his while San Jose's Scott Sealy hit the crossbar.  Chicago was moving on into the U.S. Open Cup proper like they always have for the past 14 years in a row.

Peter Bychowski on Chicago Fire vs. Rochester Rhinos, June 28, 2011, at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester, New York

Chicago Fire Lineup: Sean Johnson; Bratislav Ristic, Josip Mikulic, Dasan Robinson (Jalil Anibaba 49'), Pari Pantazopoulos; Gabriel Ferrari (Patrick Nyarko 46'), Michael Videira, Daniel Paladini, Corben Bone (Dominic Oduro 75'); Diego Chaves, Cristian Nazarit

Coming off an improbable come from behind match against San Jose, the Fire were now destined to meet USL Pro team Rochester Rhinos. This third round match up would be played in Rochester New York at Sahlen's Stadium in front of approximately 5000 home fans as well as about 20 Traveling Fire Fans. We loaded the Van on early Tuesday morning on June 28th and headed eastward to see our beloved Fire play in the US Open Cup. After some traffic in Pennsylvania and a quick stop off for some Yuengling beer, we arrived at the stadium about 15 minutes before kickoff. Once inside we were joined with about 15 other fans and the match kicked off.

The game began with Rochester having most of the possession and attacking the Fire right out of the gate. The Fire used mostly reserves in the match and had a difficult time breaking the Rochester defense. In the 37th minute they were able to break the deadlock when Corben Bone fired a shot that was blocked and made its way to the top of the box where Diego Chaves was able to get a hold of it and blast it past Rhinos' keeper Neal Kitson. The Rhinos weren't able to do much in the second half as interim head coach Frank Klopas brought in regular starters Oduro, Nyarko, and Anibaba to hold the one goal lead. Things did get a bit chipy as 4 yellow cards were handed out in the second half, two to each team. Fortunately the Fire were able to withstand a late onslaught of attack by Rochester to finish the game 1-0 and advance to the Quarter finals, where they would meet The New York Red Bulls at home.

Tweed Thornton on Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls, July 12, 2011 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois

Chicago Fire Lineup: Sean Johnson; Jalil Anibaba, Josip Mikulic, Yamith Cuesta, Gonzalo Segares; Marco Pappa (Diego Chaves 66'), Logan Pause, Daniel Paladini Patrick Nyarko (Baggio Husidic 66'); Dominic Oduro, Cristian Nazarit (Orr Barouch 46')

The game against the New York Red Bulls will always be a top story for the 2011 season. Rumors started circulating early in the day that the power was out at Toyota Park and kick-off time might be moved up so the game could be played in sunlight. It seemed like a joke at first but lo and behold at 1:00 PM the team officially announced that kick-off time was moved up to 5:00 PM thanks to a severe thunderstorm that had left over 817,000 people in the Chicagoland area without power. Due to the chaotic nature of it all, the front office decided to make the game free and even offer free parking to anyone who could make it 2 ½ hours earlier than the original kick-off time. The Red Bulls players were still in the air when the news broke. A couple of NYRB players revealed via Twitter that a team mainly made up of backups and reserves had landed at Midway airport at 1:30 PM and would have about 3 hours to prepare for the game. Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe did not even bother making the trip or sending his assistant coach.  It was up to Individual Development Coach Mike Petke to man the helm.

I myself managed to make the game by the slimmest margin. By the time I was settled in my seat, Dominic Oduro had already scored in the 7th minute of the game to give the Fire a 1-0 lead. Chicago completely dominated the run of play. The Fire's attack reminded me of the movie Congo where the grey gorillas put out simple attacks to find the points of weakness before going in for the kill they know they will get. The halftime score might have been 1-0 but it was the safest 1-0 score I've ever felt. When the second half started, all of Section 8 had moved from their traditional spot in the north end over to the southwest corner to join Sector Latino and strategically cheer on the Fire attack while simultaneously jeering NYRB's goaltender Bouna Coundoul. Yamith Cuesta scored in the 48th minute. Orr Barouch finished the game with a brace to make it 4-0. Diego Chaves and Baggio Husidic had great opportunities to make it 5-0 but the final score remained 4-0. The Fire moved on to the U.S. Open Cup Semi-Finals and would a host a U.S. Open Cup Semi-Final for the first time since 2006. Section 8 moved from one end to another evoking a classic game at Cardinal Stadium in the Naperville years. About 5,000 people showed up for a free game on a couple of hours' notice and some of them made it to their first Fire game ever. This victory will always be at the top of the list of Fire U.S. Open Cup memories.

Gregg Mixdorf on Chicago Fire vs. Richmond Kickers, August 30, 2011 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois

Chicago Fire Lineup: Sean Johnson; Dan Gargan, Cory Gibbs, Jalil Anibaba, Gonzalo Segares; Marco Pappa, Daniel Paladini, Logan Pause; Sebastian Grazzini (Baggio Husidic 46'); Dominic Oduro (Diego Chaves 87'), Patrick Nyarko

Weeknight games are always hard. I got into the car and started my journey towards Toyota Park. Surprisingly the traffic wasn't bad. I made excellent time and arrived with plenty of time to spare. Got to the tailgate and there were delicious tacos available. As I surveyed the scene I decided that the mood was one of guarded optimism. We all knew this was Richmond, a second division side who had just suffered a tough loss in the USL playoffs. Yet Richmond had to be respected. They took this USOC business seriously. For that reason alone they were considered a threat. Unlike our despicable foes from the previous game, the absolutely bungling mess of a franchise NY Red Bulls, Richmond had ambition. Why couldn't they beat the Fire? Our league form had been depressingly unspectacular up to that point. Richmond on the other hand was having an excellent season.

As far as the game goes my memories are hazy. I sang my face off. Voice was complete rubbish for the rest of the week. Peter Wilt spilled his beer on me during a goal celebration. If you ever see Peter and Tom Dunmore getting their picture taken together prepare for goals and beer spillage. At least that is what my experience tells me what will happen. There was much pandemonium post Dom's goal. It was so wonderful. This win was one of my favorites as a fan. I had a great time throughout the whole game. Shockingly it was my first USOC game that I had attended. I missed last year's home game. The stupid power outage completely screwed me over and I was unable to attend the massacre of the bulls.

Post game was full of jubilant hugging. Also dancing. Much dancing. We monitored the Seattle game as best we could. Twitter pulled us through as somehow "America's Soccer Channel" managed to not show the USOC semi finals this year. The news filtered in, Seattle won due to a Montero goal. Those of us still in the parking lot an hour after the game began discussing logistics, plane fares and the like. We knew that we would find our way to that final no matter what we had to do. Now it is the eve of the final and the excitement for the game couldn't be higher. I can't wait to be standing next to my brothers and sisters signing my face off once again in support of our beloved Fire.