A second-half goal from Sébastien Le Toux - backed by a commanding, collective display - was enough to see the Philadelphia Union past the Fire, 1-0, in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal at PPL Park Wednesday night, effectively eliminating the Men in Red from the 102nd edition of the tournament.
"It was very disappointing," Fire head coach Frank Yallop said. "Aside from a couple spells in the first half and spaced out through the game, we were outplayed tonight; which is alarming. We needed to get up for the game. Our training has been good and we talked about [winning this game]. You've got to go out and perform and give everything you have, and it didn't seem like we did that. To put in a performance like that in a semifinal is not good."
After experiencing a 1-0 loss at the Portland Timbers in MLS regular season play last Friday, Yallop opted to make one change, giving Gilberto - filling in for Jason Johnson - his first start since signing on as the club's third Designated Player during the summer transfer window. The Brazilian - deemed fit and in good condition prior to kickoff - was forced off in the 21st minute, however, with what was confirmed as a right thigh contusion, a low blow as the Fire lacked a substantial attacking dimension on their way toward logging their 20th road loss in all competitions dating back to July 2014.
A somewhat frantic start to the match saw both sides feel each other out before establishing any sort of concrete possession, with the Union thoroughly dominating first half proceedings. Jim Curtin's side posted seven shots on goal and 16 crosses, forcing a back four comprised of Lovel Palmer, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz and Joevin Jones to string 22 clearances together in a predominantly defensive outing.
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Midfielder Cristián Maidana was at the heart of several of the host's moves, forcing an early, but comfortable save from Sean Johnson in the eighth minute with a left-footed curler.
The Argentine's presence was felt again, cutting inside on a static David Accam and firing a low shot away, which was tipped off the post by Johnson and spit out to C.J. Sapong, whose follow-up hit the outside of the net in the 24th minute. Johnson up to the task again two minutes later, this time denying Brian Carroll as the Fire continued to live dangerously and invite pressure.
In the 37th minute, Le Toux’s sliding cross made its way to Sapong, whose complicated attempt at a backheel flick to beat Johnson inside the six-yard box escaped him. On the stroke of halftime, the visitors aimed to hit back through Accam, who sped past Union defender Richie Marquez and burst through on goal, drawing a kick save from 'keeper John McCarthy at the near post to close out a largely forgettable first half for the Fire.
The second 45 saw Yallop's men show a little more verve, matching the Union in possession stats, but ultimately not doing enough to ruffle the hosts as the Union - after whittling away at the Fire back line - found their match-winner in the 74th minute.
After sidestepping a few defenders, Le Toux collected a loose ball at the top of the 18 and planted a left-footed strike off the right post and in to seal the Union's berth to the final hurdle: the club's second consecutive appearance in the Open Cup final.
While the Men in Red look to overcome Wednesday night's defeat, it's all to play for in regular season action as both sides butt heads at PPL Park Sunday night.
"Our guys are devastated with the result, but we need to get ourselves ready for Sunday," Yallop added. "Sunday's going to come quickly so we need to get ready for that and pick the bones out of this one, because it wasn't good."
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)
(4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Harry Shipp, Razvan Cocis, Matt Polster (Mike Magee, 77'), David Accam (Jason Johnson, 58'); Shaun Maloney; Gilberto (Kennedy Igboananike, 21')