Back-to-back road losses in Major League Soccer were a reminder of how far the Chicago Fire has to come to move up the league standings, but Tuesday offers an opportunity for the Fire.
The U.S. Open Cup match against the Columbus Crew (7:30 p.m. kickoff streamed live on chicago-fire.com) is a chance for the Fire to get something positive going this season. The round of 16 match is at Toyota Park and a quarterfinal, against either Orlando City or the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, would also be at Toyota Park if the Fire get there.
In order to get to that quarterfinal, the Fire must get by a familiar Crew squad. The two teams played to a scoreless draw in Bridgeview on March 19.
“They are always consistent in their style,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said on Monday. “It’s going to be for us one of our main challenges to stop them and take the possession from them.”
Columbus will have a different look from the team that visited the Fire in March. Prolific striker Kei Kamara has since been traded to New England and replaced by Ola Kamara, no relation. Playmaker Federico Higuain is out after undergoing hernia surgery. Those two made up the core of the Crew’s attack last season.
“They’ve had some adversity,” Fire defender Eric Gehrig said. “The trade with Kei and Higuain is out now with surgery so they’re a limping team, but they’re a team that gets after it. They know their style. They’re dangerous. They still have a lot of weapons. The new Kamara has been banging some goals for them and I think they’re just a team that, whether it’s Open Cup, whether it’s a friendly, whether it’s an MLS game, they really get after it so it’s going to be a good test. Obviously a good rivalry for the two cities and it’s an Open Cup game so there’s a lot on the line.”
The Fire didn’t have David Accam in that March 19 meeting with the Crew. That game was the first in a string of six matches the Ghanaian missed. He scored in Philadelphia on Wednesday and has four goals and two assists in seven matches in MLS play. In addition, he scored the equalizing goal in extra time in the Open Cup opener against Indy Eleven and converted the clinching penalty.
Expect Paunovic to play another near full strength lineup like he did in the first Open Cup match. As for Columbus, coach Gregg Berhalther heavily rotated the squad against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a 4-0 win in Columbus. Berhalter may go with more regulars against an MLS team on the road.
One player the Fire will be without is midfielder Matt Polster. Paunovic said that Polster, who has been a limited participant in training, will not play Tuesday due to his concussion suffered against Indy Eleven on June 15, but could return for Friday’s match against San Jose.
“Obviously the Open Cup is huge for this club and the legacy we’ve had with it so we’re taking it very seriously and preparing well,” Fire defender Brandon Vincent said.
The match will be streamed live on the Fire's official website (chicago-fire.com) with Dan Kelly on play-by-play and Paul Tenorio subbing in for Frank Klopas as color commentator.