‘The header by Razov… Klopas scores!!’
That’s where it all began. In the 99th minute at Soldier Field in the 1998 US Open Cup final – Chicago’s inaugural season – Frank Klopas popped up in the six yard box to give the Fire a 2-1 lead over Columbus for its first ever US Open Cup triumph (see video at bottom). Now, thirteen years later, the Fire legend and current Interim Head Coach has the chance to lead the men in red to its sixth final of this tournament when they take on the Richmond Kickers at Toyota Park on Tuesday night.
The Fire are so close now and are just one win away from a possible final in Seattle, or even Chicago depending on the outcome between Seattle and FC Dallas (also playing on Tuesday night). One thing is for certain: The Chicago Fire have proven they want to be in that final. While the New York Red Bulls left their entire coaching staff and half their team in New York to do who knows what, the Fire fielded a full strength side in the quarterfinals at Toyota Park and easily topped the Red Bulls 4-0. In fact, the Fire made their intentions clear from the very beginning of this tournament. Here’s a recap of the how the Fire progressed to the semi-finals:
Third round: Chicago traveled all the way to the East coast in late June to take on USL side Rochester Rhinos at Sahlen’s stadium for a David and Goliath type clash. Klopas fielded a strong side and Diego Chaves provided the winner with a goal in the 37th minute in what was an extremely scrappy game. It may not have been pretty, but all that mattered was the Fire booking its place in the next round.
Quarterfinals: A power outage at Toyota Park forced kick-off to be moved ahead two hours and, to the delight of the Fire faithful, free admission for everyone. Even if Fire supporters were forced to pay for their tickets, they would have gotten their money’s worth as the men in red put the New York Red Bulls B team to the sword with a resounding 4-0 win. Dominic Oduro opened the scoring as early as the seventh minute before Yamith Cuesta doubled the Fire’s advantage with a header four minutes into the second half. Orr Barouch then stepped off the bench to grab a brace and send New York packing, allowing the Fire to look forward to another US Open Cup semi-final.
The Richmond Kickers have taken a slightly longer road to Tuesday’s semi-final, as well as arguably more impressive. The USL side, coached by Englishman Leigh Cowlishaw, knocked off two MLS sides and will be desperate to make the Fire the third:
First round: Richmond 2-1 Phoenix SC
Second round: Richmond 4-1 Pittsburgh
Third round: Columbus 1-2 Richmond
Quarterfinals: Sporting Kansas City 0-2 Richmond
So here we are then. The Kings of the Cup have the opportunity to knock Richmond out of the cup and leave just one team standing in their way of a record fifth US Open Cup triumph. Tuesday’s semi-final is the most highly anticipated match of the season for Chicago and it’s bound to be a great atmosphere at Toyota Park, particularly after back-to-back league wins for the first time this season.
The men in red know what this competition means to Fire supporters and Fire supporters know what it means to the players. In a season that has yielded just four league wins, Frank Klopas and co. also know this is the team’s only realistic shot at silverware this season. A playoff berth may still be a possibility, but the Fire have come too far in this year’s US Open Cup and simply treasure this competition too much to sacrifice it for an outside shot at the playoffs.
The message from the fans is simple, we all want to see the team lift silverware at the end of the season and this is our chance. As we all said prior to our first home match of the season, now is the time to STAND AND DELIVER.
Video of the Chicago Fire’s first ever US Open Cup triumph in 1998:
For more up-to-date news and analysis, follow @ChicagoFireBlog on Twitter.