Fire prepare for 'game of the season' in Tuesday's Open Cup semifinal

Fire prepare for 'game of the season' in Tuesday's Open Cup semifinal

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.”

[SHOP: Get your own Fire home jersey right here]

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.”

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


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.

Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon


Fire sign veteran MLS forward Alan Gordon

As far as notorious players in MLS with a history of scoring big goals, Alan Gordon is one of the first names on that list.

The Fire signed the 36-year-old forward on Friday, continuing to add depth to a roster that appeared paper thin throughout the preseason. Gordon, who had been on trial with the Fire for part of the preseason and even after the season opener, signed a one-year deal.

Gordon adds plenty of experience from being in the league since 2004 and having scored 55 goals with five different teams. For the past few years he has been used primarily as a substitute, but has still maintained his reputation for scoring goals late in games.

At 6-foot-3 he brings plenty of size and strength to the team and is one of the best players on headers in the league. Last season the Fire failed to score directly off a set piece, which was both due to consistently poor service from corner kicks and a lack of players adept at finishing them off. Gordon should give the Fire a late-game option in that area.

Elliot Collier had impressed the Fire enough to earn a contract as a third-round pick and an international player and even came off the bench in the opening loss to Sporting Kansas City, but it appears the team wanted more experience at forward with Gordon.