For Dominic Oduro, it has been a long six years in his MLS career. For the Chicago Fire, it has been a long 2011 season. In the past, however, both seem to be finding their stride with one another. Part of that dynamic performance includes the Chicago Fire’s 2-1 victory over USL Pro’s Richmond Kickers in the US Open Cup Semifinal in which Oduro netted the game-winning goal, earning the nod from TheCup.us as Player of the Round.
The honor is voted on by the staff of the definitive US Open Cup site TheCup.us and a selected panel of members of the North American Soccer Reporters, which also selects the MLS Player of the Week. Oduro beat out Seattle’s Fredy Montero, who scored a similar game-winning goal against FC Dallas, for the award. Zach Scott and Mauro Rosales of the Sounders also received consideration.
Previous Players of the Round in 2011 have been Seattle’s Mike Fucito (Third Round), Kitsap’s Zach Lubin (First Round) and Richmond’s duo of Ronnie Pascale (Quarterfinals) and David Bulow (Second Round). Oduro is the first Fire player to earn the honor since TheCup.us began selecting the award in 2006, naming Calen Carr and Andy Herron as the recipients in the Semifinals and Final, respectively, that year.
Already leading courtesy of a 32nd minute Sebastian Grazzini penalty kick, the Fire broke the game open in the 61st minute with an impressive goal from Oduro. Patrick Nyarko passed to Oduro on the left wing, and the speedy forward dribbled forward, cut back to his right foot and bent the ball out of the reach of a diving Ronnie Pascale into the side netting at the far post. It was a fitting reward for the striker, who continually pressed the defense and forcing the Kickers to bring a second defender in to cover him on the attack.
With William Yomby scoring seven minutes later as the Kickers attempted to rally, Oduro’s tally proved to be the game-winner. While Oduro has 10 goals on the year in MLS, his second goal of the current US Open Cup campaign carried deep personal connections as the Ghanaian striker played for the 2005 Richmond Kickers Future, a USL Premier Development League side the club operated from 2002-09 to develop players. The 2005 campaign was the lone year in which the team qualified out of the PDL for the US Open Cup, advancing to the Second Round with Oduro scoring his first two career tournament goals in a 3-0 win over USASA side Baltimore Colts. They would be eliminated the following round, 3-0, by the USL-1 Virginia Beach Mariners. In addition to his ties to the club, the goal came against a former coach in Pascale, who was on the coaching staff at Virginia Commonwealth University when Oduro went to school there 2004-05.
Pascale would joke after the game saying that he “taught him that finish.”
Oduro’s next two career Open Cup tallies would come in 2009 with Houston, finding the net against USL’s Austin Aztex and Charleston Battery in the Third Round and Quarterfinals, respectively. His fifth, also for Houston, was a consolation tally in a 3-1 Quarterfinal loss to Chivas USA in 2010.
Enter 2011. After playing just one game for the Dynamo, Oduro was traded to the Fire for Calen Carr, who has played only 129 minutes in five games with one goal due to post-concussion syndrome. The trade made Chicago Oduro’s fourth home in six seasons. He spent his first three years in Texas with FC Dallas from 2006-08 before heading to New York via a trade prior to the 2009 season. After just three games played, Oduro returned to the Lone Star State in another trade, joining the Dynamo. Things appeared to be moving upward in 2010 with five goals in 19 starts (27 appearances) only to see the early season trade this year.
Oduro would join a Fire squad that was coming off a 2010 season in which they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and only the second time ever in franchise history. In addition, the four-time Open Cup champions had not advanced past the tournament Quarterfinals since last winning the title in 2006.
The 2011 campaign, in retrospect, may turn out to be the season in which both Oduro and the Fire find themselves. Both continued along a path of mediocrity throughout much of the campaign with Oduro goals coming sparingly along the way as the team travelled frustrating path. The Fire have a respectable tally of only eight losses on the year through 20 games. What has proven exhaustingly elusive has been victory; the team has only five in comparison to a league-high 15 draws.
Along the way, things warmed up through the middle of the campaign. Chicago rattled off a 10-game run without a loss in all competitions, qualifying for the Open Cup with a penalty kick decision on the road over the San Jose Earthquakes in the final tournament qualifier May 24. The result kicked the streak off and maintained the club’s status of competing in the tournament every year. The unbeaten run stretched through June and into July, including a narrow 1-0 win in Rochester against the USL Rhinos in the Third Round.
As the calendar turned to August the Fire and Oduro got hot. With six goals on the year entering August, Oduro went on a run of good form, scoring in a 4-2 loss at Vancouver and a 2-2 draw in New York in back-to-back games. Two matches later, he notched the game-winning goal to end the team’s five-game winless run with a 2-0 victory against Toronto. The match marked the start of the team’s current run of blazing form that has seen them win four of five overall. They posted another 2-0 win over Colorado before the semifinal victory over Richmond August 30.
The club cooled down with a week off after the tournament win, falling 2-0 in San Jose, but Oduro put them back on path, scoring a game-winner in the 85th minute of a 3-2 decision against Chivas USA, and adding his 11th of the season in a 3-2 win over New England last weekend. The goal was his seventh in nine games and he has five game-winning goals to his credit in 2011. In fact, Oduro, prior to the game against the Revolution, had scored the winning tally in each of the Fire’s last five victories in both competitions, including the team’s 4-0 drubbing of the Red Bulls in the Open Cup Quarterfinals. The run of great form has put Oduro in the running for the MLS Golden Boot, sitting two back of Dwayne De Rosario along with three others at 11.
Heading toward the US Open Cup Final in Seattle, the Fire will also be chasing a postseason berth in a hotly contested race. Chicago currently sits six points back with six games remaining, including a match on the road against Oduro’s former Dynamo side three days before the championship match.