The U.S. Open Cup has become the priority for the Chicago Fire this season.
Coach Veljko Paunovic called Wednesday’s quarterfinal against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers a must-win and even rested players Saturday at FC Dallas to strengthen the team for this match.
“We all know how much we value this competition and it becomes a priority,” Paunovic said on Monday. “We will go with all our horses in this game against Ft. Lauderdale, who is a team that has proven that they can beat any MLS team. They did so far in Open Cup, two times, so full respect, full power against them.”
The quarterfinal will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. at Toyota Park and will be streamed live on chicago-fire.com.
The Strikers got this far in the competition by beating the Richmond Kickers and D.C. United in penalty kicks before beating Orlando City in extra time last round. That’s three wins with none of them coming in 90 minutes.
Ft. Lauderdale went 4-3-3 in the North American Soccer League’s first half, good for sixth place out of 11 teams, and is 0-3-1 in the fall season. Indy Eleven, the NASL team the Fire squeaked by in penalties in the Fire’s first Open Cup match this season, beat the Strikers 3-0 on July 13.
Former Fire players in Maicon Santos, the Strikers' leading scorer who spent part of 2013 with the Fire, and Victor Pineda, a former Fire homegrown, play for the Strikers. Maicon Santos will be out due to suspension after picking up a red card at Orlando.
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Off the field, the Strikers picked up some unwanted attention this season for paying players late on multiple occasions this season. The team’s Brazilian ownership group includes World Cup winner Ronaldo as a minority owner.
All this adds up to the Strikers not being a very imposing opponent on paper, but Paunovic insists the Fire will play a strong lineup despite being in the middle of a crowded stretch in the schedule. This match will be the Fire’s fourth in 12 days and trip to New England comes three days later.
“All our eyes are on this game and we want to prepare and win the game,” Paunovic said. “Then we will look forward of course. We know that we have New England right after, three days after, so we also know what we want to achieve in that game. Having this stretch it is important to recover well, having a plan where all the guys are important and have to be engaged. So far I think we are doing a good job with that and players understanding very well their roles.”
Paunovic indicated on Monday that Matt Lampson will start at goalkeeper. Lampson has started the previous two U.S. Open Cup matches. In addition, Joey Calistri, who missed Saturday’s loss at FC Dallas due to an ankle sprain, will not be ready to return on Wednesday.