The first five minutes of the Chicago Fire’s PDL season couldn’t have gone much better Tuesday night.
Mark Blades came down the left flank and squared the ball to Isaac Kanneh for a tap-in and an early lead against the Croatian Eagles in a first-round match of the 99th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
The rest of the night, though, was filled with things for coach Mark Spooner to work on with his team, which held on to that slim lead the rest of the way in a 1-0 victory at the Toyota Park Practice Field in Bridgeview, Ill.
“Obviously, I’m not going to complain about it – it was the goal that took us through – but I kind of felt that the goal kind of killed the game a little bit,” said Spooner, whose team had its first training session just five days earlier.
“We never really got into a flow, any rhythm of soccer. But we’ll take it. … We’re in the second round, and ultimately, that’s all that matters.”
The Fire will next face the Dayton Dutch Lions of USL Pro in the second round next Tuesday. The Eagles, meanwhile, were eliminated from their first Open Cup appearance since 2006.
Chicago had plenty of chances to put the game away but was stymied by Croatians goalkeeper Bryce Boyd.
“He played outstanding,” Eagles manager Alex Toth said of Boyd, who got the nod over former professional Ante Cop in a reversal from last month’s U.S. Adult Soccer Region II tournament.
“They had so much pace up top they were able to get behind us a couple times, and he was able to come up with some big saves that kept it at 1-0.”
Boyd stopped Chris Prince on a point-blank shot in the 13th minute and dove to deny Brady Wahl in the 34th, and stopped two 1-on-1 situations in the second half. Boyd finished with eight saves.
“I thought he was fantastic,” said Spooner, whose side advanced to the third round of the tournament in 2011 before losing to Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City. “We needed to take our chances, and the game really could have been dead and buried at halftime, and it wasn’t. Their keeper kept them in it and they pushed us towards the end.”
Croatians didn’t generate much going forward in the first half, with striker Aaron Lauber’s flick-header off a cross from Billy Von Rueden that went just over the crossbar in the 41st their only real scoring opportunity before the break.
But the Milwaukee club forced Fire PDL keeper Jordan Godsey into six of his seven saves in the second 45, including stops on Mohammed Sethi, Michael Narciso and Edison Crespo that held the Eagles off the scoresheet.
“The first half, I don’t think we played too well. The second half was better. And then the last 20, it was ours,” said Toth, who switched his team’s 4-5-1 into a 3-5-2 as it went in search of the equalizer. “We were able to put pressure on them, and they basically just held on to that game.”
Croatian Eagles 0:1 Chicago Fire PDL
Toyota Park Practice Field – Bridgeview, Ill.
CHI: Isaac Kannah (Mark Blades) 5
CRO: Andrew Wiedabach – caution 19
CRO: Mike Narciso – caution 29
CHI: Jacob Bushue – caution 32
CHICAGO FIRE PDL: Justin Godsey, Daniel Keller, David Tiemstra, Sean Totsch, Patrick Doody; Brady Wahl (Tyler Engel 87), Jacob Bushue (Chris Ritter 61), Harrison Shipp, Mark Blades; Isaac Kannah, Chris Prince (Javier Torres 78). Substitutes not used: Sam Euler (GK), Dan Figura, Luis Medina, Marco Gutierrez.
CROATIAN EAGLES: Bryce Boyd; Mike Narciso, Tony Patterson, Aaron Schroeder, Billy Von Rueden; Jason Willan (Mohammed Sethi 60), Andrew Wiedabach, Scott Suprise, Scotty Raymonds, Joe Anderson; Aaron Lauber (Edison Crespo 68). Substitutes not used: Ante Cop (GK), Aaron Cranfill, Ilya Ksenidi, Gustavo Mena, Lati Ziba.
Saves: CHI (Godsey) 7, CRO (Boyd) 8. Shots: Not available. Fouls: CHI 7, CRO 6. Corner kicks: CHI 9, CRO 2. Offsides: CHI 4, CRO 2.