On a typically hot summer night in Atlanta, the Silverbacks looked to keep their Cinderella run going as they welcomed the Chicago Fire to town for the Quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Unfortunately for the home fans in attendance, the four-time champions proved to be the superior side as the Fire defeated the Silverbacks 3-1 to move on to the Semifinals. Chicago’s Quincy Amarikwa, Jeff Larentowicz, and Alex all scored second half goals to lead the visitors to the Final Four.
The Fire reach the Semifinals for a Modern Professional Era record 10th time and will travel to Tukwila, Wash. to take on the Seattle Sounders on Aug. 13. It will be a rematch of the 2011 US Open Cup Final.
Atlanta began the match – a trial by Fire, if you will – down three starters and two coaches following the last round’s “Mile High Melee” against the Colorado Rapids that saw field players Borfor Carr, Jaime Chavez, Kwadwo Poku, Technical Director Eric Wynalda and Assistant Coach Ricardo Montoya red-carded. On the other side of the pitch was a Fire team playing its third game in seven days, one with a 2-12-4 record on artificial turf since 2010.
Wynalda expressed confidence in his side before the game, telling 92.9FM The Game’s Alec Campbell, “The last two weeks are the best the team has looked in training since [I’ve] been here.”
The match opened evenly with the Silverbacks seeing better chances from forward Junior Sandoval, forcing a nice kick save from Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson. On the flip side, Fire forward Quincy Amarikwa was in alone on Silverbacks netminder Derby Carrillo but failed to pull the trigger. 20 minutes in, the Silverbacks held a slight edge in shots, 3-1.
In the 31st minute, tempers flared between Chicago’s Mike Magee and Atlanta’s Jesus Gonzalez. Magee kicked out at a 50-50 ball near the sideline and after Gonzalez confronted Magee about it, both players appeared to attempt to head-butt each other at the same time. There was no injury, but referee Edvin Jurisevic hit both players with straight red cards. The night was over for Magee and Gonzalez.
Just three minutes later, the Fire’s Matt Watson earned himself a yellow card, and just to even things out Atlanta got a yellow of their own in the 43rd, Ferrety Sousa with the booking. On the ensuing free kick, Chicago’s Jeff Larentowicz headed a sharp angle shot into Carrillo’s waiting hands.
The half ended scoreless with Atlanta seeing the better chances and looking a little more aggressive. However, Chicago’s forwards showed some creativity and the ability to slice through the Silverbacks’ back line if they wanted to. But Magee’s ejection obviously changed the tenor of the Fire’s attack.
“[They] put us on the back foot in the first half,” said Johnson, who hails from nearby Lilburn, “and we had to
dig ourselves out of a hole and regroup at halftime.”
The stalemate was finally broken in the 50th minute when Amarikwa scored on a rebound as he lifted the ball over the outstretched hands of Carrillo. Chicago led 1-0.
It didn’t take long for the home side to equalize. Junior Sandoval received a perfectly timed pass and went in 2-
on-0 against Johnson. Sandoval smartly played the ball off for Deon McCaulay to finish to tie the game at 1-1 in the 54th minute.
The teams played an even game through the 75th minute. Atlanta’s young speedster Alex Harlley replaced Sousa and had an immediate impact down the right wing. The night began to cool as a breeze blew in and a bit of lightning appeared on the horizon. In the 76th minute, Silverbacks defender Mike Randolph unleashed a rocket shot that sailed just over the crossbar.
Shortly after nearly putting Atlanta ahead, Randolph put his team in a hole in the 82nd minute as he took down Matt Fondy in the box which gave Chicago a penalty kick. Larentowicz converted to give Chicago the 2-1 lead with fewer than 10 minutes remaining.
Just two minutes later the Silverbacks threatened when Harlley juked a defender but shot high.
“We didn’t put balls into the net …balls that we we should have.” said acting-coach Alejandro Pombo, specifically
lamenting that missed opportunity by Harlley to equalize.
A minute later the Fire extinguished any chance of an Atlanta comeback when Alex put the visitors up 3-1, again finishing a juicy rebound left by the Silverbacks goalkeeper.
And that’s how the game would end. Though the depleted Silverbacks played well, they couldn’t stop the Fire from blazing at the end of the second half. Atlanta was unable to dispatch its third straight MLS side, and Chicago moved on
to the Semifinals.
“Finishing,” said Pomba simply. Though top scorer Chavez was amongst the starters who missed this match, Pombo made no excuses, “They play every single game, are our top scorers, but we don’t care about that.”
Though the Silverbacks began their NASL season slowly, Pombo was confident in the team’s growth over the last month: “We want to make it tough for all the teams in the second part of the year.”
The silver lining for the Silverbacks is that since fellow NASL club Carolina RailHawks also lost their Quarterfinal match, the $15,000 prize money to the Division 2 team that advances the farthest comes down to a tiebreaker. Atlanta will be $15,000 richer as its two victories over Major League Soccer opposition (Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids) trumps Carolina’s win (Los Angeles Galaxy) and a draw (Chivas USA) against MLS teams in this year’s tournament.
Chicago moves one step closer to adding to their four US Open Cup trophies. One more and it will equal the all-time record for most Open Cup titles. Despite that, Johnson said the road through Atlanta was not an easy one. “[They] gave us a great game. Hats off to them.”
MATCH REPLAY: CHICAGO FIRE AT ATLANTA SILVERBACKS