For all the pride that the club and its fans have taken in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup over the years, the Chicago Fire enter the 2018 edition of the tournament with relatively minimal fanfare. The team is treating it as Just Another Game in an otherwise punishing season thrust onto a thin and trundling squad. Enthusiasm among fans seems uncharacteristically muted this year, for reasons I won’t even try to guess at.
You can’t really make anyone care about something if they really don’t want to. If the players and Veljko Paunovic are viewing tomorow’s clash with Columbus as just more fixture congestion, we’re going to get the result we deserve. If the fans can’t get behind the team for this game, it’ll be hard to blame the players for not giving 100% either. We know what’s at stake here— a chance to redeem this season, a shot at a fifth USOC title, and potentially making That Yellow Team forever winless against us in the Cup.
This used to, and ought to be again, our tournament.
In all probability, though, Pauno is going to rest the starters and focus on making sure no one else gets hurt. The tyranny of lowered expectations.
Chicago Fire all-time USOC record vs Columbus Crew: 6-0-0, 15 GF / 8 GA
Chicago Fire away USOC record vs Columbus Crew: 1-0-0, 2 GF / 1 GA
Four points from their last three MLS games. Not great on paper, but that most recent game saw Columbus fight back from 3-0 down to steal a point. Even when this team is bad, they’re still potentially dangerous.
Cleveland; Corrales, Dean, Ellis, Ramos; Tchani, Adams, Johnson, Bronico; Campos, Collier
I went on a huge tear earlier about Giving A Shit about this tournament. I’m also saying here that we should play the kids and the fringe players. They’re not mutually exclusive. Our squad is thin, ravaged by injuries, and tired as hell. Making all our first team regulars suit up for this game does no one any favors. I’d rather have Collier playing at 100% than Nikolic playing at 60-70%. Same with Johnson, and Dean, and Ramos, and all the first team outliers. They’re eager for a chance and, most importantly, their legs are fresher. That could mean all the difference in a game like this.
Plus, Stefan Cleveland is going to be the backup for at least a month. He might as well work out some of that rust now.
Keys To The Match
Non-Compliance: Columbus have a lot going for them heading into the tie. They’re at home against their biggest rival, they’re playing great, and they have a surprisingly strong attack led by— God, I can’t believe I’m saying this— Gyasi Zardes. Most important, they’ll be motivated to go far in this tournament, knowing that they’ve got the squad to compete and that this could be their last dance. But as the saying goes: “every corpse on Mt. Everest was once a highly motivated person.” The Crew are going to want to play their own way to get the result they want. The Fire cannot go along with it. Do whatever it takes to shit on Columbus’ parade. Even if we lose, don’t make it easy for them. Force extra time. Force penalties. Run them ragged.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt: If PSV and Don Garber get their way, this will indeed be the last trip the Fire ever make to MAPFRE Stadium. Columbus will be at home, against us, in the Cup, with a losing record in this competition hanging over their head. They’ll be motivated, for sure, but they’ll also be susceptible to the same emotional reactions that come with every rivalry fixture. The Fire should find ways to take advantage of that. Going through to the next round will be a lot easier if the Men In Red can bring their opposition down to 10, or even 9.
Live That #ScamLife: There’s no such thing as winning well in the Open Cup. You get through it however you can. We went out last year because Cincy held out through 120 minutes and then came out on top in penalties. There’s no shame in us adopting a similar strategy against Columbus. If we want to advance— and I realize that’s a big If here— we’ve got to do the best we can with what we’ve got.
How To Watch
Can the Fire fight through to the next round? Let us know in the comments below!