The Chicago Fire have been given a gift from the soccer gods in a home match against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. After resting several starters in last weekend’s match against Dallas, Veljko Paunovic and the Fire have declared themselves all-in in their quest for the cup. One can only hope they don’t go all Fire and blow what should be a gift-wrapped victory. The match begins at 7:30 p.m. and can be streamed on the U.S. Soccer Youtube page or below!
Overconfidence can be a dangerous thing for any club, but it is hard to have any other feelings when looking at the Strikers. The club currently sits in eighth place in the North American Soccer League overall standings, and 11th out of 12 teams after four matches in the fall league. They’ve been outscored 6-1 in those four matches, and twice have ended the match down a man due to physical (and dumb) penalties.
With all that evidence, you’re probably thinking, "By gawd, that team sounds turrible! How are they even in the quarterfinals?!" The answer is the Strikers have put together a gameplan mixed with luck and enough grindin’ to make Clipse proud. Their first two matches in the tournament came down to penalty kicks, where the Strikers topped USL side Richmond Kickers (2-1 final in PKs) and a disinterested DC United side that only featured one regular starter (4-3 final in PKs).
In the Round of 16, the Strikers nearly went into penalty kicks again before eeking out a 2-1 victory after 120 minutes. Despite playing only four regular starters, Orlando City dominated both possession and dangerous chances in the match, taking nearly 30 shots against the Strikers with just under a dozen on goal. By comparison, the Strikers took just one shot in the final 75 minutes of the match - lucky for them it a game-winner in the 120th minute.
The Strikers aren’t likely to catch the same breaks as they have in past Open Cup matches though, as they face a Fire team that’s desperate to make something out of what is becoming another lost season. With starters like David Accam rested last weekend, the Fire are likely to put out a legit starting XI against the Strikers.
Unfortunately for them, the Strikers cannot say they’ll do the same. The club is without Brazilian starters Adrianinho and Matheus Carvalho, whose departure earlier this month adds fuel to the fire that the club’s financial situation is not all that sunny as the Florida weather. Leading scorer Maicon Santos will also miss tonight’s match due to red card suspension.
The Fire cannot - and should not - lose this match. The red carpet to the Open Cup semi-finals has been rolled out for them, and only a depleted and weaker lower-division teams stands in their way. Of course, this Strikers team should have been eliminated last round, but found a way through sheer grit, luck and a lil bit of pixie magic; so it’s possible they’re the perfect foil to add to the Fire’s never-ending misery. I think it’s safe to say the Fire will win this one 3-1, but I have the tissues ready in case more heartbreak is on the horizon.