When: Wednesday August 13th at 9:30PM CST
Where: Starfire Soccer Complex, Tukwila, Washington
Where to Watch: Streaming live on Chicago-Fire.com
Hey, What Happened?
The fourth win of the season, that's what happened! Despite being out-possessed, out-passed and out-played, the Fire were able to pick up a full 3 points versus the Red Bulls on Sunday night. The win came on the back of a Mike Magee goal; the 2013 MVP finished off of a rebound of his own saved penalty kick. The defense showed up and locked down one of the most potent attacks in the league - but on the other side of the ball, the offense still couldn't finish their chances and struggled to create them, as well, The majority of the attack came from out of the back in the form of long balls over the top.
Hey, What's Happening?
The Fire are travelling to the Pacific Northwest for the single most important game to this point of the season. Tonight, the Men in Red take on the Seattle Sounders for the right to compete in the US Open Cup final. Kings of the Cup? You bet - the Fire have a chance to add a fifth title, and thereby tie Bethlehem Steel and Maccabi Los Angeles on the all-time winning list.
Each team won 3-1 in the quarters, and each scored two goals late to break open a tight contest. The Sounders needed extra time to knock long-time rival Portland out of the competition in the previous round, blowing open a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes with two goals in the 30 minutes of extra time. The Fire, on the other hand, travelled to Atlanta and bested a game and spirited NASL side with two goals in the final 10 minutes.
For the Fire, the main headline coming out of that game - besides the team's quest for a fifth Open Cup trophy staying alive - was the first-half ejection of Mike Magee. Magee's red card means he is was disqualified for this match, and will be watching from Chicago while his teammates try to land a finals berth against Philadelphia.
Hey, What Should Happen?
Pressure's on, defense: If there is any time to have a perfect game defensively this would be it. The Fire have given up 38 goals in all competitions since the season began back in March. Seattle has scored 43 goals in that same span which makes them the highest scoring team in the MLS right now. Suffice to say that Chicago will have to play well in the back or this could get out of hand quickly. The Sounders basically have 5 players that attack at will. Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey are the focal points of the attack with Marco Pappa, Gonzalo Pineda, and Brad Evans providing the support. The Fire's encouraging defensive showing against New York is a good place to start, but Seattle will likely be an even more difficult challenge.
Keep hope alive!: That said, there are several factors that mitigate against a Sounders walkover. First is the fact that Seattle will doubtless rotate their starting XI more than the Fire - this game is a chance at redemption for Chicago, while could be one of those dutiful "Yes, we intend to try to win everything" kind of games for the home side. Second, the game won't be played in spacious C-Link, but rather at Starfire, as narrow a bandbox stadium as one is likely to see at this stage in a cup competition. The Fire's natural tendency to pack midfield and play purely opportunistically dovetails nicely with what is essentially a well-appointed high school field.
Where are the Fire goals going to come from? Magee's needless red card in the last round rules him out; the other two strikers on the roster are Qunicy Amarikwa and Matt Fondy. That's it: three strikers, two available. Could we see Amarikwa up top with Harrison Shipp slotted right behind him? That would make a fair bit of sense, as that is Shipp's preferred position and he could possibly flourish there.
When will fatigue set in? Both teams played Sunday night; both coaches used their strongest starting lineups. The Fire will travel directly from Seattle to Montreal for the weekend's MLS match. How will Yallop control minutes of key personnel? He may choose to rest a few key regulars on Wednesday night in order to have fresh legs for Saturday. If he does this, expect howls of frustration from many corners of CF97 supporter-dom, who expect nothing but a full-throated challenge for this Cup the Fire have won 4 times previously.
Hey, What's Going to Happen?
Two wins is all that the Fire need in order to claim the cup that they have not held since 2006 and even more important to secure a spot in next year's edition of the CONCACAF Champions League. If the Fire can carry over their defensive performance from Sunday into this match and add in a little offensive fire power, then we will be on our way to the Fire's seventh Open Cup final. If they can't do these things than I'm afraid that the best team in the league may run all over us en route to their fifth Open Cup final.
I'll stay optimistic for this one and say that the Fire edge the Sounders by the final score of 2-1 in extra time. If I'm wrong I still hope the Fire win this one as the fan base needs something, like a US Open Cup final, to make the 2014 MLS regular season woes disappear at least for a little while.