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Amarikwa goal catapults Fire into fifth round of USOC

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Amarikwa goal catapults Fire into fifth round of USOC

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.

[RELATED - Fire hold U.S. Open Cup in high regard: 'It's got history here']

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.      

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

After failing to qualify to play in this summer’s World Cup, the United States’ pain was alleviated on Wednesday morning after earning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

But why is this bittersweet for Chicagoans?

Even though the World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in eight years, matches will not be played in Chicago.

The city chose not to be one of the potential hosts of the world’s largest sporting event, despite using Soldier Field as a venue for the 1994 World Cup.

One of the reasons could be the low seating capacity of Chicago’s historic stadium. Soldier Field would be the second smallest spot out of any World Cup host option, seating only 61,500. The massive competition also draws enormous crowds, possibly causing logistical concerns for a highly-populated place like Chicago.

Ten out of 17 different cities in the United States will be gifted the opportunity to host 2026 World Cup games. The list includes Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) and Nashville (Nissan Stadium), which are the closest domestic locations to Chicago.

The bright side is that fans from the Midwest won’t have to travel very far to see a match. For bigtime soccer fans in the Chicago area, having the chance to attend world-class matches in United States could be exciting enough.

Out of the 80 games taking place in 2026, 60 of them will be located in the United States.

Can this bid with Mexico and Canada at least help the relevancy of U.S. Soccer in the Chicago area?

The U.S. men’s national team missed this year’s World Cup at a very unideal time, just when it seemed like the sport of soccer was gaining more and more popularity in the United States.

Plus, the United States might not even get an automatic bid to play in their own World Cup as hosts.

But becoming a member of the first trio in FIFA history to host the World Cup, coupled with the expanded 48-team field in 2026, could help the United States retain the fans they have across the nation and around Chicago.

The World Cup might not be coming to the Windy City, but Chicagoans will still have something to be excited about in 2026 with games being played right around the corner. If the U.S. can qualify for the upcoming World Cups, having the tournament in North America will be much sweeter.

Until then, the 2018 World Cup kicks off this Thursday night in Russia.

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

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@JTHAZZARD

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

Portillo's has become a staple in the Chicagoland area due to its popular hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and now, its soccer jerseys.

OK, maybe one of these does not belong with the others. Regardless, Twitter user @JTHazzard created mock-up soccer jerseys mashing MLS teams and restaurants based in that team's city, and the Portillo's jersey is sweet. 

From the Portillo's logo taking center-stage to the picnic blanket pattern to the discrete Chicago Fire logo, this jersey is absolutely brilliant. The only change this writer would make is including the logo below instead.

Valspar is the current sponsor featured on the Fire's uniforms. If the team ever needs a new sponsor, though, Portillo's would be an excellent replacement.