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Strange weather creates perfect storms for Chicago Fire

Things don't always go as planned and sometimes that's beautiful.  The Chicago Fire had to bump up their U.S. Open Cup match on Tuesday versus the New York Red Bulls from 7:30 PM CST to 5:00 PM CST due to storms that knocked out power for almost a million people in the Chicagoland area.  Traffic surrounding Toyota Park was not pretty due to stop lights being out and you could see local businesses were closed on the way to the stadium.  The Fire provided plenty of electricity on the field and the fans did more than their fair share in the stands.  Dominic Oduro, Yamith Cuesta, and Orr Barouch all scored goals and the Fire dispatched the Red Bulls 4-0. 

After the Fire won, all eyes turned to Kansas City where the winner of Sporting KC/Richmond Kickers game would play Chicago in the next round of the USOC.  If Sporting KC won, the Fire would travel to Kansas City on August 30th but if the Richmond Kickers won, Chicago would host the Kickers at Toyota Park at the end of August.  SKC dominated the first half and pelted Kickers goalie Ronnie Pascale but couldn't score.  As halftime ended, dark clouds began to cover Livestrong Sporting Park and soon lightning struck.  Play had to be suspended in the 65th minute and the postponement continued for over an hour.  When the game finally resumed, Richmond played a long ball to Shaka Bangura who managed to score a goal in the aerial chaos of the ball's subsequent descension.  The Kickers needed to hold on for just 25 minutes. They managed to do that and more gaining and converting a penalty kick in the 83rd minute.  SKC looked threatening at times but they ultimately failed.  The Kickers won 2-0.  A U.S. Open Cup Semi-Final is coming to Toyota Park for the first time since September 6th, 2006.  Mark your calendars for August 30th, 2011.  You are going to Toyota Park with your friends and family for some USOC Chicago Fire action.  More thoughts on the Fire game and the U.S Open Cup after the break.

There wasn't any Fire player that looked bad because New York's players were not very good.  Mehdi Ballouchy was the Red Bulls most experienced and 2011 battle tested player followed by Stephen Keel, Austin da Luz, Bouna Coundoul, and Chris Albright.  The problem is da Luz has played only 367 minutes, Coundoul has been relegated to the backup keeper role after losing his starting job and Chris Albright is a veteran working his way back to playing shape.  He, Tyler Lassiter, Teddy Schneider, Sacir Hot, Marcos Paullo, and Mike Jones all played yesterday and combine for 1 minute of MLS Regular Season play.  Matt Kassel, Corey Hertzog, and John Rooney rounded out the motley crew that made up NYRB players on Tuesday and those three have each played for less than 100 minutes.  Head coach Hans Backe did not even bother to show up leaving Individual Development Coach Mike Petke to handle the sideline duties.  The NYRB coaching staff also decided to only take 3 substitutes including backup goalie Alex Horwath.  Why not bother taking an extra field player to keep open the possibility of using all three substitutes allowed is beyond me.

All those negative remarks about the opposition aside, a win is a win for the Chicago Fire.  The entire first team started except for Cory Gibbs.  They made quick work of New York starting with Dominic Oduro scoring a goal in the 7th minute on an assist from Cristian Nazarit.  The rest of the first half continued to be positive combinations between Oduro and Nazarit with Patrick Nyarko, Daniel Paladini, and Marco Pappa getting involved too.  Chicago out shot New York 13-1 although some of the attempts made it into goaltender Coundoul's hands without looking too threatening.  Towards the end of the first half, NYRB had two decent chances including one where Ballouchy broke free of the defense only to shoot the ball wide of the net. 

Chicago came out attacking in the second half and earned a corner kick in the 48th minute.  Yamith Cuesta connected and scored a header.  Three minutes later Orr Barouch collected the ball in the box and made it a 3-0 game in Chicago's favor after the ball deflected off Keel and into the net.  Things went into cruise control at that point with the Fire making the occasional run.  There wasn't much of a counter game because New York had problems simply getting the ball into their half of the field.  Diego Chaves held onto the ball in the 69th minute of play before finding a streaming Barouch who quickly fired a shot underneath Coundoul for a 4th Fire goal.  When the clock rolled around to the 90th minute, the referee didn't even bother to call any stoppage time even though some could have been added.

Overall it was positive to see the team's best players at their best and just having fun.  The last time the Fire won at home was on March 26 against Sporting KC.  It's tough to say if the players are learning anything because the level of competition was so low but a win is a win.  You can't take away those good feelings from the players.  You could see the frustration in Diego Chaves when Oduro didn't pass him the ball on a very promising breakaway.  It was already 4-0 but Chaves wanted the ball.  He wanted to score and he exchanged words with Oduro over it.  On the one hand it's foolish to do that when the score is so high but on the other hand, all great scorers have that selfish attitude.  That's positive to see Chaves hungry like that.

The USOC Story

In the history of the Chicago Fire, there are many great stories.  They usually feature victories and like any good story there is a hook.  There's not much of a story to a standard 1-0 win where your number one goal scorer scored the goal against a weaker team.  There is a great story where a defender scores the game winning goal of a 4-3 match with playoff or championship implications on the line.  We remember the different and the bizarre because it stands out.

One of the stories about Fire fans I always remember is the tale of bothering the goalie in Naperville.  While Soldier Field was being renovated the Fire played some games out at Cardinal Stadium.  Section 8 fans heckled the opposing goalie in the first half to the point he was visibly upset.  He thought the second half would be a quiet reprieve only to come out of the locker room after halftime to find that Section 8 had moved across the stadium to stand behind the goal he would be protecting for the rest of the game.  Hilarity ensued and there was much rejoicing.

On Tuesday, things fell through for the planners of the Chicago Fire soccer games.  Everyone from fans, players, and front office folks had to come together and change their schedules to adapt to the new 5:00 PM CST start time.  Buses had to be moved, work schedules had to be altered and the word needed to be spread.  Sure the tickets became free but try getting around 3,000 people to show up for anything with less than 4 hours notice.  As I saw members of Section 8 walking down the concourse after the first half and going to the other end of the stadium, I could feel that excitement.  I could feel a special story had been created on Tuesday.  Everyone in that crowd will say "Hey, remember that day Toyota Park had no power, the game was free, we crushed Red Bulls 4-0, and Section 8 went to the other side of the stadium?".  This was a story for the ages for a soccer club that is chock full of them but hasn't had a great one in awhile.  Long-time readers might roll their eyes but I'm returning yet again to Frank Klopas saying "Let's get back to what the Chicago Fire use to be".  Frank, I think we are really getting there.  Just two more USOC wins and I think we'll have an even clearer answer.  On to August 30th and the Richmond Kickers.  Historic glory awaits.