Thanks to Patrick Nyarko's third-minute strike and a late brace from Kennedy Igboananike, the Fire eclipsed MLS expansion side Orlando City SC, 3-1, and secured their passage to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals.
The Men in Red came out of the gates flying, catching the Orlando City back line napping. Jon Busch's long ball forward to Nyarko was brought down well and coolly finished past 'keeper Tally Hall, before Canadian international Cyle Larin leveled in the second half. Two late goals from second-half substitute Igboananike, however, proved to be the difference between the sides in front of an announced crowd of 4,723 at Toyota Park Wednesday night.
“I can smile! Yes!" Yallop replied when asked to submit his opening statement to reporters after the match. "Massive, I've sat here long enough and said to you (reporters), when we have our guys on the field, that we are pretty good. I think that showed tonight, we had the difference-makers out there."
Frank Yallop made a trio of changes from the side that experienced a second consecutive loss to Columbus Crew SC over the weekend. Busch earned his first start in goal since the Fire's 2-0 defeat away to the New England Revolution on June 13. Joevin Jones returned from Gold Cup duty to replace a cup-tied Patrick Doody, while Shaun Maloney's entry allowed Harry Shipp to retreat to a wide role in place of David Accam.
Maloney -- making his first cameo since emerging with what was diagnosed as a bulging disc in his back in the Fire's 1-0 win over USL's Louisville City FC on June 16 -- looked lively in his No. 10 role: demanding the ball, creating for his teammates and moving fluidly. The Scotland international came close in the 16th minute, knuckling a free kick toward Hall, forcing the Orlando City netminder to parry over the bar.
Shipp generated a couple of solid looks himself, his most dangerous coming just shy of the quarter-hour mark. After combining well with Maloney, the Homegrown midfielder curled a cheeky effort past the reach of Hall and just wide of the right post. A nifty one-two between Nyarko and Razvan Cocis -- sporting the captain's armband -- 10 minutes later led to the Romanian's shot trickling wide of Hall's left post.
The Men in Red, who outshot the Lions 8-2 in the opening 45, had their slim advantage canceled out 11 minutes into the second stanza. A swift counterattacking move -- ignited by right back Rafael Ramos -- sent winger Eric Avila bursting down the right side before delivering a pinpointed cross for rookie Cyle Larin to head past Busch.
Substitutes Accam and Igboananike ran the Orlando City defense ragged -- the former showing flashes of his speedy brilliance -- keeping defenders on their heels and forcing a wary Hall into a number of saves as the sides went back and forth as the second half wore on.
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With extra time looming, the two Designated Players put matters into their own hands. Three minutes from time, Matt Watson sprung Accam down the left side before releasing a shot that clanked off the post, falling to Igboananike to tap in and restore the Fire's lead. The Nigerian was on the mark again in the 91st minute, dribbling his way around Hall and scoring on an unguarded net to eliminate the visitors from the quarterfinal stage for the second time since 2013.
"Hopefully this win, although it's in the Open Cup -- it was against a very good opponent -- lifts our spirits and we have a great performance on the weekend and win," Yallop added. "I think we have done well to get to this stage and we have had a couple tricky ties at home, forget the opposition. If you look at some of the results in the Cup, a lot of teams go through that are lower in the league. We stuck to it, got through it and did well."
The victory sets up an away visit to face the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on Aug. 12 in the Open Cup semifinals, four days before the two sides meet in Philly again for a MLS regular-season fixture on Aug. 16.
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs):
(4-4-1-1): Jon Busch; Matt Polster, Eric Gehrig, Adaílton, Joevin Jones; Patrick Nyarko (David Accam, 59'), Matt Watson, Razvan Cocis (C), Harry Shipp; Shaun Maloney (Kennedy Igboananike, 66'); Jason Johnson (Michael Stephens, 90').