Chicago Fire 4 Nikolic 16’, Katai 32’, Campos 90’, Collier 90’+2
Louisville City 0
Any way you can get it.
That’s the mantra of the US Open Cup, right? Form doesn’t matter, technique doesn’t matter, consistency doesn’t matter, goal difference doesn’t matter. You win on the day and you win any way you can. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just do the thing.
The Fire did the thing tonight against lower league opposition. A 4-0 final score makes it seem like it wasn’t close. This is about what you’d expect when an MLS team goes up against a USL team.
I keep telling myself I’m not going to get het up over Pauno’s team selection, and every time— every freakin time— I do it anyway. Vincent back at CB. Campos back at fullback. Basti as the #10. At this point I don’t know if Pauno’s trolling or if he really thinks this is his best setup. I’m not even sure which is worse.
But this is who we’ve got, so, whatever. Onward.
The Fire needed to come out and dominate. They... did not do that. Weak turnovers, succumbing to pressure in their defensive third, too dull in the attack (featuring a whiffed shot by Elliot Collier). And this was all in the first 10-15 minutes. If Louisville were MLS-caliber the Fire would’ve been down a goal at this point.
As it is, broken clocks are still occasionally right. Despite conceding so much space and initiative to the visitors, the Fire took a lead in the 16th minute thanks to a header from Nemanja Nikolic.
(There were nervous moments immediately after the goal when Niko walked away clutching his head after the goal and then needed to step off the pitch for physio evaluations. He was ultimately fine, but, yikes.)
The Fire should’ve used this as an opportunity to start putting the boot to Louisville and grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck. Instead they kept giving the ball away too close to Richard Sanchez’ goal and generally letting themselves get muscled out of the way. Lou City nearly got an equalizer in the 27th minute, and it would’ve been no less than they (or indeed the Fire) deserved.
And then, finally, after the half hour mark, the Fire realized who they were and who their opposition was. Aleksandar Katai led a three-man counterattack that ended with him roofing in a shot from 10 yards out for Chicago’s second goal.
It took a bit, but it was nice to see the quality gap actually show itself. Aside from a chance from Cameron Lancaster on 41’, the Fire seemed to finally take control of the game. The Men In Red sauntered into the tunnel at halftime with... dare I say swagger? No, certainly not.
Chicago started letting Louisville back into the game in the first few minutes of the second half, conceding some easy chances and forcing Richard Sanchez to scramble. I wish I knew what it is about the Fire that makes them take so long to get going. But they settled back in, by and by.
The next 15 minutes or so went fine for the home side. But because it’s the Fire, the despair is never too far behind. That all-too-familiar feeling returned when Dax McCarty went down with a non-contact injury in the 67th minute. Given our luck this season, be prepared for the news in the next day or two to be pretty bad.
Almost immediately the Fire started looking sloppy again. Louisville were pressing their case, the Fire backline were just a step too slow, and Sanchez had a bit too much to do. The “most dangerous scoreline” jokes picked up on Twitter. That old familiar feeling.
But at length Louisville ebbed from the shores of the game. The red card shown to Kyle Smith in the 84th minute all but sealed it. Diego Campos’ 90th minute sneaker made absolutely fucking sure. Elliot Collier megging the keeper for the fourth goal was stunting. Louisville’s second red card was a cry for help.
The scoreline fits, but there were too many points in the game where the Fire were on the backfoot. At home, against lower league opposition. That’s not great. 4-0 is, in this case, a bit deceptive.
Still, it’s the Cup. A win is a win any way you get it. Onward to Philly in the semifinals.