On a picture-perfect evening at Toyota Park, it took a 116th-minute goal from Quincy Amarikwa for the Chicago Fire to punch their ticket into the fifth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Wholesale changes from head coach Frank Yallop saw Sean Johnson, Chris Ritter, Michael Stephens, Matt Watson, Quincy Amarikwa and Jason Johnson break into the starting lineup in the 1-0 extra-time victory over Louisville City FC Tuesday evening.
"It was nice to get a clean sheet tonight; forget the opposition," said Yallop in his post-match press conference. "I am excited about the prospect of this team, it is an exciting team. I talked before; we wanted to make it a team that was good to watch. I don’t think you can judge us on that tonight, a lot of guys out, a lot of exciting players out.”
Following his debut in the 2-0 loss to New England Revolution, Greg Cochrane was restored into the side, sliding back to left back in place of Lovel Palmer. Matt Polster partnered alongside Adailton at center back as captain Jeff Larentowicz couldn't recover from a slight groin injury. Eric Gehrig retained his role at right back after a 90-minute showing in Foxborough.
Stephens and Ritter operated in the center of the midfield, with Watson and Harry Shipp situated to their right and left, respectively. Jason Johnson and Quincy Amarikwa spearheaded the Fire attack, replacing Guly do Prado and Kennedy Igboananike.
The Men in Red looked comfortable in possession through the opening quarter of an hour, controlling the rhythm while Louisville looked comfortable absorbing the pressure themselves.
Yallop's outfit struggled to create any cogent chances worthy of unnerving the USL delegation, however, with the visitors enjoying a somewhat fruitful first half excursion in their first match against MLS opposition. Louisville forward Matt Fondy - making his first appearance against his former team - stripped the Men in Red defense in the 12th minute and fired a low shot at Johnson, forcing a diving save from the Fire 'keeper. Ten minutes later, midfielder Magnus Rasmussen stung the tip of the crossbar with a rifling effort.
Just past the half hour mark, Amarikwa pounced on a terrible error from the Louisville back line, giving him a 1v1 opportunity against goalkeeper Scott Goodwin, but the Men in Red's most dangerous chance was spurned as he sent his slicing shot wide of the frame.
After emerging from the halftime interval scoreless, Shaun Maloney made his return from international duty with Scotland and entered the fray for Matt Watson to start the second half, turning a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation into a 4-2-3-1 setup.
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The Men in Red came out with a relatively improved attitude to begin the second 45, but again failed to generate any meaningful chances to unsettle the visitors. A glancing header from Amarikwa in the 71st minute went just wide of Goodwin's frame, while Niall McCabe in the closing minutes arguably should have won the match for Louisville, if not for Adailton's intervention with a last-ditch tackle to keep the score deadlocked at zero.
The fourth-round fixture was subsequently forced into two, 15-minute extra time periods as the two sides failed to muster a late goal in regulation. With Maloney forced to exit from the second period with back spasms and not many shots hitting the target, it seemed as if penalty kicks beckoned. That was until Amarikwa turned home a wayward shot from Brazilian Guly do Prado with his head four minutes from time to allow the hosts to breathe a sigh of relief as the full time whistle followed.
"We won the game and we are into the next round," added Yallop. "I’ve got to take the positive and that was: we kept going, we kept fighting, we kept pushing. I know the team we are playing against is a lower league team, but I think with the guys we had missing and what we did on Saturday, it was a hard match for us and I think we obviously did enough to win.”
The narrow triumph sets up the Men in Red for the next phase of the tournament, which will be determined with the fifth round draw to take place Thursday at 10 a.m.
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)
(4-4-2): Sean Johnson (C); Eric Gehrig, Matt Polster, Adailton, Greg Cochrane; Matt Watson (Shaun Maloney, 46', Razvan Cocis, 97'), Chris Ritter, Michael Stephens, Harry Shipp; Jason Johnson (Guly do Prado, 63'), Quincy Amarikwa.