Second half goals help Fire atone for "edgy" start vs. Charlotte


Second half goals help Fire atone for "edgy" start vs. Charlotte

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.

[RELATED: Open Cup a chance for Fire to get 'ship straightened']

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

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

After failing to qualify to play in this summer’s World Cup, the United States’ pain was alleviated on Wednesday morning after earning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

But why is this bittersweet for Chicagoans?

Even though the World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in eight years, matches will not be played in Chicago.

The city chose not to be one of the potential hosts of the world’s largest sporting event, despite using Soldier Field as a venue for the 1994 World Cup.

One of the reasons could be the low seating capacity of Chicago’s historic stadium. Soldier Field would be the second smallest spot out of any World Cup host option, seating only 61,500. The massive competition also draws enormous crowds, possibly causing logistical concerns for a highly-populated place like Chicago.

Ten out of 17 different cities in the United States will be gifted the opportunity to host 2026 World Cup games. The list includes Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) and Nashville (Nissan Stadium), which are the closest domestic locations to Chicago.

The bright side is that fans from the Midwest won’t have to travel very far to see a match. For bigtime soccer fans in the Chicago area, having the chance to attend world-class matches in United States could be exciting enough.

Out of the 80 games taking place in 2026, 60 of them will be located in the United States.

Can this bid with Mexico and Canada at least help the relevancy of U.S. Soccer in the Chicago area?

The U.S. men’s national team missed this year’s World Cup at a very unideal time, just when it seemed like the sport of soccer was gaining more and more popularity in the United States.

Plus, the United States might not even get an automatic bid to play in their own World Cup as hosts.

But becoming a member of the first trio in FIFA history to host the World Cup, coupled with the expanded 48-team field in 2026, could help the United States retain the fans they have across the nation and around Chicago.

The World Cup might not be coming to the Windy City, but Chicagoans will still have something to be excited about in 2026 with games being played right around the corner. If the U.S. can qualify for the upcoming World Cups, having the tournament in North America will be much sweeter.

Until then, the 2018 World Cup kicks off this Thursday night in Russia.

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.