After edging past one USL side in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Chicago Fire will meet another third-division club in the next phase of the fabled tournament.
The Men in Red will host Charlotte Independence in the Round of 16 on Tuesday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Toyota Park.
Led by U.S. men's national team Press Officer Michael Kammarman, Thursday morning's draw, hosted by the U.S. Soccer House in Chicago, was conducted by U.S. Adult Soccer Association Executive Director Duncan Riddle and Open Cup Commissioner Paul Marstaller.
Frank Yallop's depleted group advanced with a 1-0 victory over first-year outfit Louisville City FC in extra time Tuesday night, while Charlotte stunned the New England Revolution 1-0 in Boston to move forward.
"They've gone into a very tough environment and won," Yallop said after training on Friday. "[We] take no game lightly; we're at home, which is great for us. We want to do well in this competition and we grinded ourselves through the last round."
Jon Busch, who sat out of Tuesday's match to make way for Sean Johnson's first start since May 15, knows the feeling of being on both sides of a MLS vs. USL fixture and the competitive spirit that comes with being the underdog. The 38-year-old played for Hampton Roads Mariners and the Hershey Wildcats, who dissolved in 2007 and 2001, respectively.
"We've got to match their intensity," Busch added. "They're going to come out here; they want to upset us; they want to prove people wrong. That's the biggest thing going into a game against a lower-division club: the soccer may not be at the level we think it should be, but they're going to come after us full bore and we've got to be able to handle that."
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Charlotte head coach Mike Jeffries, meanwhile, will return to his old stomping grounds. His first MLS gig was as an assistant to Bob Bradley during the Fire's first three seasons. Jeffries was a part of the inaugural side that won the Open Cup in 1998 and 2000, before returning as an assistant coach once more from 2008-10, and as Director of Player Personnel from October 2010 through September 2012.
The Jacks, a new addition to the USL, were formerly the Charlotte Eagles, whom the Fire faced once before in Open Cup play. A 2-0 triumph on the campus of Winthrop University on May 29, 2013 - with goals from Mike Magee and Chris Rolfe - sent the four-time winners to a fourth-round meeting with Columbus Crew SC, which saw the Men in Red prevail and later trounce Orlando City SC in the Round of 16 that year before falling to D.C. United in the semifinal.
The path appears very similar in 2015. Should the Fire come out on top, they will also host the quarterfinal matchup on July 21 or 22 and face the winner of Crew SC and Orlando City. The winner of the South Region will then travel to face the winner of the East Region in the semifinal Aug. 11-12.