The Chicago Fire are falling out of reach in the Eastern Conference playoff race and haven’t been firmly in the race for a while.
That is why Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal in New England has taken on so much importance for the Fire.
The Fire’s season more or less rides on this game. A win means the Fire get to host the U.S. Open Cup final, which would be the biggest game the club has played in years. A loss means 2016 is likely going to go down as another lost year.
“Tomorrow’s game I see as a great opportunity for us, not only to advance to the final and have a possibility later to win it,” coach Veljko Paunovic said on Monday. “With that I believe it will in some way save our season so far. I also see it as a great catalyst for boosting our mood and our performance in the league. Of course we are far from the playoffs, but I think it can boost our mood and our performance if we win tomorrow.”
The Fire have already lost twice in New England this season. On May 14 the Revolution came out 2-0 winners and a recent clash on July 23 resulted in a 1-0 New England victory.
The Fire will have to change that trend, as well as the team’s winless road record, in order to advance to the final.
“It is very helpful that we played the last game against New England soon in the past,” Paunovic said. “The only thing we learned from that game is we have to be consistent until the end of the game.”
The team practiced in Utah the morning after Saturday's 3-1 loss at Real Salt Lake, a match in which Paunovic rested key players. They also had an afternoon practice on Monday at Harvard's Ohiri Field after arriving in the area.
While the Fire may have been looking ahead to New England in the lead up to the RSL match, the focus can now fully shift to the Revolution and the cup. The players know the boost that extending this cup run and hosting a final could mean to the Fire’s rebuild.
“It’s a good way for the team to get used to winning ways, to winning cups,” midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “It’s always a good feeling so we’re looking forward to doing that here.”
Paunovic also emphasized the importance of Tuesday’s game.
“This game is the game of the season so far and we are very excited,” Paunovic said. “After the loss in Salt Lake I could see and feel the team is relieved and focused on the Open Cup semifinal game against New England and that’s what makes me feel good about the game tomorrow and also for me it’s a great excitement. I can’t wait for the game tomorrow.”