In the lead up to the Chicago Fire's U.S. Open Cup opener, both coach Veljko Paunovic and general manager Nelson Rodriguez talked about how important the tournament was for the club.
Paunovic backed that up by selecting a nearly full strength lineup Wednesday against Indy Eleven. Johan Kappelhof, who has played every minute of Major League Soccer play this season, was the only healthy regular that did not start and even he came off the bench to play right back from the 74th minute on.
Despite fielding a near full strength lineup at home against a second tier side, the Fire needed penalties to get the win after it was tied 1-1 after 120 minutes of play.
David Accam, who leveled the match in extra time, had the clinching penalty kick to send the Fire to the final 16 of the tournament after winning 4-3 in the shootout.
"I believe that for us having this tough test was actually a test of our mentality," Paunovic said. "We knew from the very first start that it was going to be the most important skill to have today, was mental toughness. I think in the end we did well, especially when we were down."
Kennedy Igboananike opened the penalty shootout ominously for the Fire by skying his attempt over the bar, but Matt Lampson stopped Indy Eleven’s third and fourth attempts to give the Fire the lead.
“As a goalkeeper you want to make one save out of five," Lampson said. "That’s your goal when you go into penalty kick shootouts. With us missing the first one I knew that we needed more than one save. Luckily I had the opportunity to do it and help our team win.
"To go down a goal in extra time and actually get another one, that does not happen a lot and that shows the character of this team so I’m really proud of these guys.”
In addition to Accam, Khaly Thiam, Brandon Vincent and Nick LaBrocca converted penalty kicks for the Fire.
Accam also played the hero in extra time by cancelling out Justin Braun’s 105th minute go-ahead goal. Accam was able to weave through a pair of defenders and score on a deflected shot in the 111th minute.
"We need this win for our confidence, to have the fans behind us," Accam said. "I think going down one in extra time is difficult, but I think we have a strong mentality. To come back and win on PKs is huge for us.”
The Fire got off to a slow start, looking like a team that hadn't played in two-and-a-half weeks. After about 20 minutes, the Fire started to create more chances and finished with 26 shots, eight on target. The closest chance was when Thiam played a low cross to Accam, which Accam hit off the crossbar with his first touch.
Indy's output towards goal was about half the Fire's, with 14 shots and four on target.
“I think just poor finishing from us in the 90 minutes we played," Accam said. "For us, we need to do better on our finishing. There’s no excuse today. We have to finish our chances."
Matt Polster, who was subbed off at halftime, suffered a concussion according to Paunovic. Paunovic said the team still needs to determine how severe it is to give his availability going forward.
The draw for the next round of the U.S. Open Cup will take place Thursday at approximately 11 a.m.