While the rumors indicate the Fire front office are deep in negotiations with Didier Drogba, Chicago's last reasonable chance to save its execrable 2015 season comes through a continued run in pursuit of their fifth US Open Cup title. The Men in Red host Orlando City in the quarterfinals of the competition this evening at Toyota Park, with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. Many, many tickets are still available for the match, which will be streamed on chicago-fire.com as well as ussoccer.com.
The last time Orlando City traveled to Bridgeview was both the best-attended (thanks, Kaká!) and least-satisfying match of the season so far. The Fire created chance after chance against a suspect Lions defense and carried a 2-1 lead into the game's final quarter-hour, only to be undone by a Cyle Larin golazo and Adaílton's MLS-record two own-goals to lose, 3-2. Since that bummer, the Men in Red have collected only four points from six MLS matches.
Whatever their struggles in the league, Chicago have proven they'd be a very competitive USL team during their Open Cup run, defeating Louisville City (Orlando's USL affiliate) and Charlotte to arrive in the quarterfinals. Orlando have taken a different route, getting past Charleston on penalties before topping Columbus 2-0 in the round of 16.
The Fire, battered by injuries in the last month, are slowly regaining their difference-makers. Patrick Nyarko's long recovery from knee surgery seems complete, and he and David Accam on the wings create a huge amount of room for everyone else in the middle of the field. Jeff Larentowicz' bulging disc has apparently shrunk after a rigorous sitting-still regimen; he won't play tonight, but should return soon. And Shaun Maloney's back problems are sufficiently controlled for the Scot to begin training - expect him on the bench when this one kicks off. Besides Larentowicz, the only other absence tonight will be Mike Magee, who's suffered a 'little knock' and just welcomed the birth of his second child.
Orlando City doesn't lack for difference-makers, either. Kaká is, of course, the straw that stirs the drink; his movement and vision make everyone around him better. Cyle Larin's pace and power will be vivid challenges for whoever the Fire start in the center of defense, while quicksilver winger Carlos Rivas thrives on the space provided by the central Kaká-Larin axis.
Despite this being Orlando's maiden voyage as an MLS side, the two teams have history in the Open Cup. In 2013, Chicago downed OCSC in the quarterfinals, 5-1, in a game that was much closer than the final score would suggest. The game was tied at 1 after an hour when Dom Dwyer - yes, that Dom Dwyer - missed a golden chance to put the USL side on top; two minutes later, Nyarko scored to give the Fire a lead they'd never relinquish. A red card opened the floodgates, and the final 20 minutes were a Chicago exhibition.
Since that game, the Men in Red have turned over nearly their entire roster; only five players remain from that evening, and the entirety of the technical staff is different. Orlando, in contrast, has the same manager (Adrian Heath), and has upgraded nearly every position on the field. Chicago will have to play very well if they are to extend their breathtaking 23-1-1 record in Open Cup games in Illinois.
The winner of tonight's game will move on to play Philadelphia in the US Open Cup semifinals on Aug. 11. The 10-man Union gritted out a 1-1 draw against New York Red Bulls and won on penalties, despite getting Penso'd.