It's no secret that the Chicago Fire hold the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in high esteem.
With a 23-1-1 record in Open Cup games held in the state of Illinois, the Fire -- champions of the competition in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006 -- booked their place in the last eight for the 13th time in club history with a win over Charlotte Independence on June 30.
Having never been eliminated at the quarterfinal stage -- boasting an 11-0-1 record all-time -- the Men in Red will look to continue the trend Wednesday night against Orlando City SC at Toyota Park (7:30 p.m. CT; Chicago-Fire.com, USSoccer.com). Three wins shy of a fifth Open Cup title, a fourth semifinal berth since last lifting the trophy -- and second consecutive since head coach Frank Yallop's appointment -- is on the line.
“In the [first] two rounds, we found a way to win,” Yallop said Monday via teleconference. “Hopefully it’s our tournament. We’re desperate to do well. It’s a very good record, and hopefully that continues to 24-1-1. It will be tough. Orlando are a good side, as we’ve seen. They’re coming in to try and win the match, and they have some good players, but our guys will be up for it and ready. Let’s hope we can get through and get a good result.”
Should the Fire carry the day, they will travel to face the Philadelphia Union, who outlasted the New York Red Bulls with 10 men Tuesday night and prevailed in penalty kicks to etch their place in the semifinals.
Heading into Wednesday's clash, however, a 3-2 league defeat to Orlando City on June 6 -- the first of four scheduled fixtures between the sides in 2015 -- will evoke haunting memories of a game Yallop “felt we should’ve got more out of,” he told reporters. After taking a 2-1 lead through clinically taken goals by Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam, Orlando City striker Cyle Larin's bullet and Adaílton's own goal helped the visitors secure three points at Toyota Park.
Since then, Yallop's roster depth has come to the fore, as captain Jeff Larentowicz, Designated Players Shaun Maloney and David Accam -- among others -- were sidelined with injuries. Despite the absences of Larentowicz and Mike Magee, who was forced to sit out of Sunday's 3-1 loss at Columbus Crew SC with a knee contusion, Yallop will have the rare luxury of fielding a near first-choice lineup. Accam and Patrick Nyarko are in contention to start, Joevin Jones is back and recuperating from Trinidad and Tobago's exit from the Gold Cup, and, after taking part in his first full training session Monday morning, Maloney will likely be available for selection.
"[Wednesday] is an important game for the Fire," Yallop added. "It's [Open Cup] a big, big tournament we want to win. We’re going all out. It’s not a lineup that’s going to be to give guys 90 minutes. This is to win the match. I know the tradition we have here at this club, and we want to continue that and have a good result on Wednesday to get through to the next round. We’ll deal with the weekend game after that.”
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A victory Wednesday night for the Men in Red could generate promising effects apart from just the Open Cup. With back-to-back defeats to Crew SC, a third straight loss, conversely, would breed a streak not experienced since early March and June, when the Fire lost three on the trot against Western and Eastern Conference opponents, respectively.
Ahead of MLS regular season matches against the New England Revolution and FC Dallas, punching a ticket to a 13th Open Cup semifinal appearance could provide just the sort of boost the Men in Red need as they begin a three-match homestand.
“It’s not been according to plan with what’s gone on this season, injuries a part of it and not quite getting the job done is a part of it,” Yallop said. “We’ve just got to believe we’re going to win every game we’re going to play, and that’s all we can do. Including on Wednesday, and then come Saturday and the following Sunday, we’ve got three home games in a row, so we’ve got to look to get three wins if we can.”