The Fire were able to regroup following an "edgy" start against a USL delegation Tuesday night to secure a berth in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal for the 12th time in their history.
Charlotte Independence forward Tomasz Zahorski opened the scoring early, with Mike Magee answering in the 37th and 81st minutes and Lovel Palmer's long-distance strike in the 50th minute ultimately sealed a 3-1 victory over the third-division side.
The Men in Red will host Orlando City SC - 2-0 winners over Columbus Crew SC - in the quarterfinal at Toyota Park on July 22 at 7:30 p.m. CT.
"It's great to be through to the next round," head coach Frank Yallop said in his post-match press conference. "Coming from behind is always important, but the highlight of the game was seeing Patrick [Nyarko] and Mike back on the field and contributing. It's been a long way back for them, and I'm happy for the way the team kept going and got the result."
Yallop made a quartet of changes to the side that dropped its fourth consecutive league match to Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United just six days earlier.
As Sean Johnson retained his position for a third successive outing, the netminder saw a duo of swaps along his back four. Lovel Palmer started in place of Eric Gehrig at right back, while Matt Polster replaced veteran defender and captain Jeff Larentowicz at center back for his second start in a defensive role in as many Open Cup appearances.
In the midfield, Englishman Matt Watson deputized for Razvan Cocis alongside Chris Ritter. Finally, the much-anticipated expectation of Mike Magee's return was met as the forward partnered Designated Player Kennedy Igboananike to compliment Yallop's 4-4-2 formation. Nyarko, also making his way back from a long-term injury layoff, was a welcome sight on the bench, going on to make a 13-minute cameo.
Zahorski, running between Matt Polster and Greg Cochrane in the fifth minute, collected the ball from Alex Martinez and strode through on goal as he finished past Johnson at the far post to score his fourth goal of the tournament and give the visitors a shock lead.
The Men in Red gathered a bit of steam shortly after and came close around the 20-minute mark, as Charlotte's Richard Gilstrap was required to come up with a pair of fine saves. Nifty combination play in the 19th minute from Cochrane and Magee led to a one-time chance for Joevin Jones, but the Trinidadian's effort was palmed away well by Gilstrap, before Magee nearly opened his account in the 22nd minute. A low cross from the right flank was met by the 2013 MLS MVP, whose first-touch chip was met again by Gilstrap and spun just wide of the frame.
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In the 37th minute, the Fire found their breakthrough courtesy of Magee, who, following a deft interchange between Igboananike and Palmer, made a perfect run to cut off Gilstrap and reach Palmer's cross, chipping it home to send both teams into the halftime interval on level terms. It was his first goal in all competitions since Aug. 10, 2014, and his sixth career Open Cup goal.
The hosts emerged from the locker room with a greater sense of belief and began on the front foot, applying pressure early on and finding a second goal in the process.
Palmer would latch onto a ball following a corner kick, unleashing a 30-yard screamer past Gilstrap in the 50th minute. With just under 10 minutes remaining, Nyarko's first touch of the game after coming on 13 minutes from time translated into an assist, setting up Magee for his second goal of the match and securing a 3-1 win in front of 3,617 at Toyota Park.
"The great tradition of this club is to do well in the Open Cup," Yallop added. "I'm no different to that; I want to do well for the fans, the club and everybody involved."
Yallop's group faces another quick turnaround with a visit to Houston Dynamo Friday night in MLS action.
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)
(4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer (Eric Gehrig, 81'), Adailton, Matt Polster, Greg Cochrane; Harry Shipp (Patrick Nyarko, 77'), Chris Ritter, Matt Watson, Joevin Jones; Kennedy Igboananike (Jason Johnson, 71'), Mike Magee