Leading up to the Chicago Fire's fourth round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match against Louisville City FC on June 16, the challenges of confronting a first-year USL side were perhaps somewhat underestimated.
Second and third round victories over Lansing United (NPSL) and Indy Eleven (NASL) built momentum for James O'Connor's outfit, which nearly stunted the Men in Red's progress into the Round of 16. It was an aggravating performance that didn't sit well with head coach Frank Yallop, who, in his post match thoughts, was of the opinion that the Fire "were sleep walking through it and not applying ourselves."
The Fire will have another go at a third-division club - the second in two weeks - as Mike Jeffries's Charlotte Independence visit Toyota Park Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. For Yallop - with an eye on Friday's MLS clash with the Houston Dynamo - deploying the strongest possible lineup will be troublesome while having to bear the brunt of a depleted group.
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"With our injury situation, there's not a lot of guys we can choose from right now," he said Monday via teleconference. "We'll have a strong lineup. We're trying to win the match; we want to do well in this competition. We'll lick our wounds and get ready for Friday, which will be a tough game for us going into Houston.
"Nothing changes. We're just trying to get the ship straightened and going in the right direction. It starts tomorrow night. We'll have strong lineups in both games to try to win them."
Since returning from international duty, David Accam's hamstring strain has kept the Ghanaian out of training and, along with fellow Designated Player Shaun Maloney (bulging disc), remains out of contention for Tuesday's fixture and is doubtful for Friday's trip to Houston.
Meanwhile, Patrick Nyarko, who last featured on October 18, 2014, will likely be on the bench Tuesday. Mike Magee, who's appeared in two of the Fire's last three MLS matches, "should be starting" against Charlotte, according to Yallop. Before departing for CONCACAF Gold Cup duty with Trinidad and Tobago Wednesday, Joevin Jones will also be available for selection.
With a route similar to that of Louisville's - wins over NPSL and NASL opposition in the previous stages - the Independence enter Tuesday's fixture fresh off a fourth-round triumph against the New England Revolution and are one of two non-MLS sides remaining in the competition.
Led by captain Jorge Herrera, the midfield pivot and architect of the half-volley that sunk the Revolution, and former Polish international forward Tomasz Zahorski, Charlotte boast an ensemble of several players with MLS exposure. Among them is University of North Carolina standout Enzo Martinez and University of Connecticut product Carlos Alvarez, one of four Colorado Rapids loanees at Jeffries' disposal. Ryan Finley, a teammate of Harry Shipp at Notre Dame, has also found his form with a team-leading four goals.
Yallop, commending USL's pedigree and Charlotte's resolve to come away with a win at New England, knows the talk of stringing results together has yet to manifest itself concretely. Progressing to the quarterfinal, however, could do well to help quell the pain of four consecutive league defeats.
“It’s a game that we want to come out and be on the front foot and push and try and get an early goal if we can,” he added. “Talking about it and doing it are two different things. I’m just excited to see how we come out and our demeanor. We’ve chatted a lot as a team. We’ve got to now start to dig deep and start to get results. I keep saying it, but we’ve got to start doing it.”
The match, slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, will stream live on Chicago-Fire.com with the broadcast tandem of Dan Kelly and Kevin Egan on the call.