The Chicago Fire learned Thursday its first obstacle en route to seizing a fifth Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy in 2015.
After concluding the fourth round draw Thursday night for the 102nd edition of the tournament, the Men in Red are set to face the winner of a third-round match between USL side Louisville City FC and NASL’s Indy Eleven.
The third-round fixture will be played at the home of Indy Eleven - IUPUI's Michael A. Carroll Stadium - on Wednesday, May 27. The winner will travel to face the Fire at Toyota Park on Tuesday, June 16, marking the opening stage of the tournament for the 17 domestic Major League Soccer clubs, joining the 15 winners from the third round.
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The Men in Red - with a 52-36-12 all-time record in the oldest ongoing soccer competition in the U.S. and the world’s third-longest-running open soccer tournament - have yet to face either of the sides in Open Cup play.
Champions of the annual competition in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006, the Fire will look to eclipse the penultimate hurdle that has prevented them from reaching the final in the last two years, bowing out of the semifinals at the hands of three-time winner D.C. United and defending champion Seattle Sounders FC in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
The fourth round match is wedged between the rescheduled regular season fixture in Foxboro against the New England Revolution on June 13 and a home contest against United at Toyota Park on June 24. It'll bring to an end a month in which Frank Yallop's side will now play five matches in a span of three weeks.
Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.
One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:
Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.
The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.
The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.
It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.
The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).
Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.
The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.
All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.
Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.
Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.
The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.