Cup competitions are tricky for a number of reasons.
The added schedule congestion, opponents from different leagues and the typically smaller crowds all factor into the decision of how much a team will invest in its domestic cup competition.
For the Chicago Fire, things are a bit different. The club has won the U.S. Open Cup four times, matched only by the Seattle Sounders among MLS teams, and the tournament has become a point of pride within the organization and the fanbase.
With that in mind, the Fire start the tournament Wednesday against Indy Eleven at Toyota Park. Coach Veljko Paunovic is well aware of the importance of the U.S. Open Cup and tried to impart that to his players.
“Last week we had a presentation from Logan (Pause), who won this title two times,” Paunovic said of his assistant coach during a conference call on Monday. “He gave this speech to our guys.
“He explained how important it is for the history of our club and also for our fans and for everyone. It was a great experience and I believe we are doing all we can in order to make our players understand how important for us this competition is, but also how important it is to respect our rivals.”
Michael Harrington, who won the U.S. Open Cup in 2012 with Sporting Kansas City, and Johan Kappelhof, who won the Dutch KNVB Cup with FC Groningen in 2015, also spoke about the importance of cup competitions.
“It’s pretty much the same in every single league that I played,” Paunovic said. “Always the cup competitions are very, very tricky.”
Indy Eleven plays in the second tier North American Soccer League, but is fresh off winning the league’s spring title. Indy went 4-0-6 in the league’s first of two split seasons and won the title on the final match. They matched the New York Cosmos (6-4) with 18 points, a plus-seven goal differential and 15 goals scored. The third tiebreaker, head-to-head, gave Indy the title.
The matchup on Wednesday also has the added rivalry spark of featuring two Midwest teams. Lovel Palmer and Jon Busch currently play for Indy Eleven after playing for the Fire last season.
“We know that they have a lot of experienced guys who played also in MLS,” Paunovic said. “We know that they have a lot of players who played on our team in the years before.”
Paunovic hinted that he may rotate the lineup a bit, but still emphasized fielding a strong team. Though the Fire are well-rested after going on break for the Copa America Centenario, the team also plays Saturday at Colorado and a week from Wednesday at Philadelphia to make for another stretch of three games in eight days.
On the injury front, John Goossens (knee) and Collin Fernandez (ankle) are still expected to be out for the next couple games. Joao Meira had a minor shoulder injury, but Paunovic said he could be available Wednesday.
Paunovic also said there is no change in Gilberto’s status and he will not be available Wednesday.