2011 US Open Cup Semifinal Preview: USL’s Richmond Kickers face rebounding Chicago Fire in ‘Cinderella Semifinal’
The third-division Richmond Kickers of USL Pro are not supposed to be here, especially considering they had to go through two MLS clubs on the road in the past two rounds. And the Chicago Fire, though four-time tournament champions, are not considered title contenders in MLS, sitting outside the playoff window while playing with an interim coach. One, however, will move on to face either Seattle or Dallas, both playing the CONCACAF Champions League, for the 2011 US Open Cup championship.
While Chicago, who missed the playoffs for the first time last year since 2004, is in the midst of battling for a spot in the postseason, the Kickers’ run in the USL playoffs came to an end Saturday evening in Florida, falling 3-0 to regular season champion Orlando City. The Fire are five points out of the playoff qualification zone with 8-10 games remaining for themselves (8) and the other sides chasing a playoff berth.
The two teams will square off on Tuesday, August 30 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. EST.
There is only one scenario where the Chicago Fire will host the 2011 US Open Cup Final. If they defeat Richmond, and FC Dallas beats the Seattle Sounders, the Fire will host Dallas on Oct. 4 at Toyota Park.
The Richmond Kickers did not out-bid any of the other three teams so if they upset Chicago, they will play on the road for the Final.
Tuesday’s game will have an online video broadcast through Chicago-Fire.com. TheCup.us, as always, will have a live blog during both Semifinal matches beginning at 8 p.m. EST. Brendan Hannan and Jeff Crandall will have the call of the match.
Founded in 1993, the club is one of two USL teams (the other being the Rochester Rhinos) to win the US Open Cup in the Professional Era (1995). An amateur team through 1995, the club played in USL’s top flight from 1996-2005 before joining the professional third division. It has only missed the postseason one time since 1994, winning the league title three times (1995 in USL PDL, 2006 and 2009 in USL-2/USL Pro) in eight appearances.
Since the Quarterfinals: The club’s return to solely focusing on league play after stunning Kansas City was a little difficult as they lost two of the next three. After falling 2-0 in Pittsburgh though, the Kickers rebounded to run off four consecutive shutouts to end the regular season for two wins and two draws before adding a fifth in the opening round of the playoffs. On August 19, Richmond played to a scoreless draw against the second-seeded Wilmington Hammerheads in the American Division opener, advancing 5-4 in penalties on the road. Goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale was in goal for four of the five clean sheets as the club finished third in the division and overall in the league with a 12-7-5 record. The defense ranked second with 21 goals allowed. The shutout run came to an end Saturday in the league semifinals as they fell 3-0 on the road against Orlando City whilst the state of Virginia also took a beating from Hurricane Irene back home. It was the biggest loss of the year for the Kickers, who had not allowed more than two goals in any game on the season. It was the first time the club allowed three in a game since losing in Charleston June 11 last season
Road to the Semifinals
Quarterfinal: Richmond Kickers (USL Pro) 2:0 Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
The Kickers became the first lower division club to record back-to-back road wins against MLS clubs in the tournament and David Bulow’s penalty made him the all-time leading scorer in the Professional Era, passing Jaime Moreno and Johnny Menyongar. For his efforts, Kickers goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale was voted TheCup.us Player of the Round.
Third Round: Richmond Kickers (USL Pro) 2:1 Columbus Crew (MLS)
The Kickers defeated an MLS club on the road in the US Open Cup for the first time. Former Crew player Stanley Nyazamba set up the opener by sending the ball to the top of the box, where Nozomi Hiroyama sent a bending ball into the back of the net. Columbus rookie Justin Meram helped level the score in the 37th minute, when he broke into the box and found fellow rookie Cole Grossman at the far post for his first professional goal. The 67th minute proved to be an important turning point, as the Crew dodged a bullet when a Matthew Delicate header hit the post and was cleared by the Columbus defense. Moments later though, Danny O’Rourke was sent off after he retaliated on some physical play. Five minutes from time, Delicate would find the winner against the shorthanded Crew on a diving header. Recap [+]
Second Round: Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL Pro) 1:4 Richmond Kickers (USL Pro)
For the second consecutive round, Bulow and the Kickers dominated a fellow USL Pro club. Bulow tallied 17 minutes in, with Pittsburgh equalizing in the 30th. Bulow restored the lead four minutes before halftime and Matthew Delicate scored two in the second half to put the match out of reach. The Riverhounds had rallied from two down in the first round, but couldn’t generate the same magic in the second. Recap [+]
First Round: Dayton Dutch Lions (USL Pro) 1:4 Richmond Kickers (USL Pro)
The Kickers were well on their way to a First Round victory Tuesday against league foe Dayton with two goals from David Bulow in the first 17 minutes. The Dutch Lions answered back in the second half, but Bulow added a third from the penalty spot and Shaka Bangura finished the match in the 90th for the 4-1 win. Recap [+]
How They Qualified: Automatic entrant from USL Pro.
Open Cup History: The Kickers have the distinction of being the first club to win the tournament during the Professional Era, taking the title in 1995 when pro clubs began participating despite themselves being in the amateur USISL Premier (now the PDL), where they also won the league title. Richmond won the Open Cup in penalties after a 1-1 draw against the El Paso Patriots in Texas. 2011 marks the fourth time the club has reached the Quarterfinals (2001, 2004, 2007, 2011) in 14 appearances, defeating MLS clubs three times. Aside from this year’s upset of the Crew, in 2004, the club edged DC United, 2-1, in the Fourth Round before falling 1-0 to Chicago Fire. In 2007, the Kickers nipped the Los Angeles Galaxy weeks before David Beckham’s arrival, but were eliminated by the Second Division Carolina RailHawks in the Quarterfinals, 1-0.
PRO ERA RECORDS: 22-11-1 (1-0 in PKs) overall | 5-8-0 vs. MLS
Since the Quarterfinals: There has been little to celebrate since the Red Bulls arguably handed the Fire the win in the last round as Chicago has posted just two wins in seven league games since. The good news is they are coming into Tuesday’s contest on the heels of both of those victories. Dominic Oduro and Dan Gargan led the club to a 2-0 win versus Toronto a week ago. Oduro scored again Saturday with Cory Gibbs adding the insurance tally in another 2-0 win, this time against reigning MLS Cup champion Colorado to give the team a four-game unbeaten run in league play. Oduro has scored in four of the last five contests for the Fire, who have not been shut out since a 1-0 loss to Portland immediately following the Quarterfinals.
Quarterfinal: New York Red Bulls (MLS) 0:4 Chicago Fire (MLS)
Dominic Oduro wasted no time with the opening goal after seven minutes as the Fire ran away with it early in the second half as well with Orr Barouch scoring twice. The Fire had little trouble against a New York Red Bulls team that not only brought a shorthanded roster full of reserve players, but didn’t even bring their first-string coaching staff to Toyota Park. Recap [+]
Third Round: Chicago Fire (MLS) 1:0 Rochester Rhinos (USL Pro)
The only MLS club on the road for the Third Round, the Fire faced a tight one against giant-killer Rochester and came away with a narrow 1-0 win. Diego Chavez created the play that led to his goal, feeding Corben Bone the ball in the 37th minute. Bone drove past a defender and let loose a shot that the goalkeeper knocked away. The rebound popped up into the center of the box where Alfonso Motagalvan tried to clear on the volley only to see it skim off the side of his shin and fall to Chaves, who fired a low ball into inside the right post from 18 yards. Recap [+]
How They Qualified: Seeded fourth overall, the Fire opened the play-in tournament in the second round of the western bracket of MLS qualifying. They defeated the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids March 30 with a 2-1 victory. Gaston Puerari, who was recently sold to Atlas (Mexico), scored the opening goal moments before the break, with Andre Akpan answering back early in the second stanza. In the haze remaining from flares set off at the hour mark, defender Jalil Anibaba let loose a shocking 45-yard strike that surprised the keeper and proved to be the winner. Trailing San Jose by two goals in the finale for the bracket, Chicago’s Orr Barouch pulled a goal back in the 61st and Yamith Cuesta leveled terms in the 76th, sending the match to penalties, where two Earthquakes rang shots off the crossbar in a 5-4 decision to send the Fire to the Open Cup.
Open Cup History: The Fire are one of the most successful Pro Era teams, winning the Cup four times (1998, 2000, 2003, 2006) and finishing runner-up in 2004. The team has qualified for the Open Cup every year since their founding in 1998. However, since the 2006 Cup title, the team entered this year having only won one game in the tournament since, going 1-3-1 (0-1 in PKs). The Fire are 5-1-2 all-time in Quarterfinal matches and haven’t played a Quarterfinal game at Toyota Park since 2006, when they defeated New England 2-1.
PRO ERA RECORDS: 27-8-3 (2-1 in PKs) | 5-1-1 (0-1 in PKs) vs. Third Division opponents
2004 US Open Cup Quarterfinals
Chicago Fire (MLS) 1:0 Richmond Kickers (A-League)
University of Richmond Stadium – Richmond, VA
In the only meeting between the two clubs in the tournament, it was the Chicago Fire who edged the Kickers in Richmond 1-0 in the 2004 Quarterfinals. Dipsy Selolwane scored the lone goal for the Fire in the 56th minute off a corner kick by Orlando Perez. Current players Matthew Delicate, Ronnie Pascale and Mike Burke all played in that game for the Kickers, while the only Fire player still on the roster from that night is Logan Pause. (Note: Nate Jaqua of the Sounders, playing in the other Semifinal, was in the starting lineup for Chicago that night)