Veljko Paunovic: U.S. Open Cup is important to the history of our club

Veljko Paunovic: U.S. Open Cup is important to the history of our club

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.

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.