Once again, it all comes down to the Cup.
The Chicago Fire is as close as ever to missing the MLS playoffs for the 4th consecutive season, but the club is once again in prime position to alleviate some fan anxiety as they face off tonight against the New England Revolution in the semi-finals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The match begins at 7 p.m. central time and airs on ESPN2.
Where once calls of "KING OF THE CUP" bellowed from the north all the way down to the Dorne-ish landscapes of the south, the Fire have taken up a new mantle in recent years: King of the Semis. Tonight is the club’s 5th straight appearance in the semi-finals of the Open Cup; though the less said about the past three semi-finals matches the better. Let us just say the Fire have found numerous ways to let their fans down through either low-scoring slogs or embarrassing blowouts. Get ready for several rhetorical questions in this post, but surely the Fire cannot rip open their fans hearts four years in a row, right?
We’re sort of getting sick writing about New England, and Editor Jeff Engelhardt wrote a preview of them just three weeks ago. So here’s a quick refresher course on the Revs. The club essentially abandons traditional ideas of ‘defense" and "possession" to play a full-on counter type offense that can overwhelm their opponents on the wings while all-MLS stud Lee Nguyen makes magic happen in the central attack. The big mid-season acquisition Kei Kamara, the 2015 candidate for MVP, has yet to find his bearings with the Revs with only four goals in 12 matches.
The Fire played them close in New England 17 days ago in the northeast, before some miscommunication in the back line led to a late game-winner from the Revs. The Fire had their chances to get points in that match, including a missed tap-in from Goosens that helped add additional strain for Fire fans on why they support this club.
If you’re wondering where the mentions of the defense is, then congrats: you’ve thought about the Revs defense more than the club has all season. Their 40 goals allowed in 23 matches is tied with NYCFC for worst in MLS, while their 29 goals scored puts them in the lower half of the league. Their -11 goal differential is worst in the league, just one spot below the Fire and their -10 goal differential.
And the club is coming off a brutal Saturday match at Toronto, a game which saw the Revs starting 11 get torn apart 4-1 by the little Prince Sebastian Giovinco and the ghost of Jozy Altidore. Unlike the Fire, the Revs have not abandoned their hope for the playoffs (thanks Eastern Conference for allowing a 6-8-9 team to be right on playoff fringes) and their starters will enter tonight’s match playing their second game in 72 hours. The Fire have yet to score against the Revs this season, but that cannot continue for a third straight match, right?
Being a Fire fan in recent years has been a trying experience, and I personally have cultivated the mantra of the wise character Dewey Wilkerson from Malcolm in the Middle. To have any expectations is to allow oneself to be devastated when things do not come to fruition. But I’ll be damned if I don’t think the Fire have a chance tonight against a mediocre Revs side with possibly tired starters. The laws of average should allow the Fire to win at least one semi-finals match in four tries, it just boggles the mind to think they could choke again and again and again and again. There hasn’t been any prediction in this self-indulgent rant, but screw it, I’ll go against everything the mind tells me and go with a 2-1 Fire victory to send them off to the finals for the first time since 2011.
What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below?