Postponed due to severe weather on Wednesday evening, rivals Chicago Fire and the Columbus Crew squared off at high noon Thursday in the Fourth Round of the US Open Cup. Recent trade acquisition Mike Magee continued his hot streak, spurring a Fire comeback with a first half equalizer as the hosts downed the Crew 2-1 on a 77th minute winner from Patrick Nyarko.
Prior to hitting the pitch this time around, bitter rivals Chicago and Columbus had forged a lot of dramatic history in the U.S. Open Cup. The Fire went into Thursday’s match as extra time victors in all three previous tournament contests played with Columbus. The clubs’ most memorable Cup clash has to be Chicago’s 1998 Final win over the Crew at Soldier Field, secured by a 99th minute Frank Klopas golden goal that gave the Fire its first and only cup double.
Chicago came into the match at full strength, save for injured defenders Steven Kinney and Arne Friedrich – the latter not having seen the pitch at all in 2013. The Crew had three starters out and a fourth (Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta) on international duty. Chicago’s Frank Klopas elected to go with a full-strength starting lineup while Columbus’s Robert Warzycha, on the other hand, put out a side with only four regulars.
The Fire came out flat – literally and figuratively – in its new 4-4-2 setup. Columbus countered with similar tactics until center back Glauber went down near his own 18-yard box, only to be stretchered off in the ninth minute. Lacking defensive depth due to a rash of injuries to his back line, Crew manager Warzycha responded to the setback, changed his tactics, and sent Dominic Oduro up top as his lone striker.
As time ticked upward, Columbus asserted itself in the offensive third, pressuring the Fire into conceding numerous corners and free kicks. Chicago had little control of the ball during the first 20 minutes and, per usual, conceded first.
Crew reserve team standout Ben Speas linked up with Konrad Warzycha to exploit Chicago’s Achilles heel: weak set-piece defending. Speas launched a free kick from well out on the left flank, finding the head of Warzycha near the penalty spot for a redirection inside the left post to make it 1-0 Crew and leaving the Fire looking tactically out of sorts in the 22nd minute.
“It’s just mentality, soccer I.Q.,” said Mike Magee. “We have to learn from [our mistakes] because we’re not going to get out of these holes every time.”
But get out they would. The Men in Red, with Magee prowling, quickly shaped up and struck back on a counterattack.
After a turn of possession in the midfield in the 29th minute, Alex and Chris Rolfe worked the ball left and found full back Gonzalo Segares making an overlapping run on the flank. Segares took the ball to the near post and drew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum and the Columbus defense’s attention just long enough to create enough space to patiently slot a ball to Mike Magee in the middle of the six-yard box. Magee obliged with a cool finish – his fourth goal in as many consecutive matches since donning Fire red.
“I got the tap in,” said Magee, “but it was a lot of work [from the team] for me to just touch it into the goal.”
As the first half wore on, Columbus regained the advantage and kept Chicago honest with some quality chances. The Fire answered in turn though, with Magee missing just wide on a nifty chip over Gruenebaum in the 43rd minute. The Crew ‘keeper remained busy, as he foiled a scoring opportunity by Patrick Nyarko soon thereafter.
With the squads locked at one goal apiece, the second half began with Chicago opting to sit midfielder Dilly Duka – a precautionary measure taken after the young winger felt dizziness at halftime after taking a blow to the head during the first half.
Frank Klopas subbed on Maicon Santos, slotted him up top with Magee, and shifted Chris Rolfe out on the right wing – a tactical move that would later pay dividends for Chicago.
As the crowd continued to swell, taking advantage of the open gates, it was a back and forth affair, a slow burn marked by increasingly chippy play from both sides.
As the 70th minute arrived, Warzycha sent on midfield maestro Federico Higuain for young Ben Speas, an offensive move that motivated Chicago to press its attack. To be sure, aggressive, forward-looking play through the middle by Paladini, Alex, and Magee opened up space on the flanks, and the Fire wingers obliged.
With Columbus on their heels, looking to organize their defense in the middle of the park, Chris Rolfe took a ball wide on the right flank in the 77th minute and launched a curving, back post cross onto the head of an unmarked Patrick Nyarko, who calmly netted Chicago’s winner.
“It’s a play me and Chris have talked about over and over,” said Nyarko. I told him that whenever he got it out wide, if there’s no outlet, just get it to the back post. It was a perfect ball. I couldn’t miss.”
“We talked about it at halftime,” Rolfe revealed. “We knew we’d have space open on the far side, and were definitely on the same page.”
Despite an aggressive, courageous effort, the Crew could not find an equalizer, as the Fire battened down the defensive hatches to protect the win with hard men Bakary Soumare and Jeff Larentowicz.
Chicago’s victory marks its fourth in four meetings with Columbus in U.S. Open Cup play, and advances them to a quarterfinal matchup versus USL Pro winner Orlando City on Wednesday, June 26th at Toyota Park.
Fire gaffer Frank Klopas on what lies ahead: “We feel good that we’re at home, but we know it’s going to be a difficult match. It’s never easy. You see what happens in the Open Cup, with opportunities that teams like Orlando get. It will be the match of the year for them. We respect them. We’re going to make sure we don’t underestimate them.”
“I don’t know a lot about them,” said Patrick Nyarko of Orlando City, “but they beat Sporting in KC. I think they’re pretty good.”
Chicago’s winger continued, “We keep reminding all the guys here that to win a championship you’ve got to go through the toughest teams, whoever they are. Whether they’re in the second division or wherever, they’re going to be tough to play against.”
“We’re going to be ready for them,” Nyarko said, “They’re going to come here with a lot of intensity, but our goal has been to win the Open Cup from the start, and I think we’re focused on that.”
Indeed, Chicago Fire looks determined to assert itself in the centennial addition of America’s tournament and further stake its claim as “Kings of the Cup” with a record fifth USOC championship in the modern professional era.
The Massive City Columbus supporters group dubbed it the “Derecho” cup on Wednesday night, although in the end the storm that swept across Northern Illinois didn’t quite live up to expectations once it reached Bridgeview. In the end, it was a tease.
A number of hardcore Fire fans arrived at Toyota Park ready to brave severe weather, endure a lengthy delay, and watch some late night soccer, but their plan was nipped in the bud around 8 pm CST: U.S. Soccer match commissioner Minos Vlamakis postponed the 4th round U.S. Open Cup match to the following day at 12 noon.
“We wanted to keep the integrity of the Cup in mind. There was no reason to wait for 11 or 12 o’clock (to see if the weather cleared). Both teams were in agreement that this is in their best interests as well as that of the fans,” said Vlamakis.
While a noon start time on a Thursday certainly wasn’t convenient for most, the match could not be rescheduled for Thursday night because the Toyota Park grounds crew and operations staff was scheduled to begin preparation for an upcoming all-day concert on Saturday.
To soften the blow of postponement, Chicago Fire graciously announced free admission and free parking for those who decided to return the following afternoon.
After U.S. Soccer rendered its decision, many speculated Columbus would be unhappy with the decision to not wait for the weather to pass. With a Saturday night home fixture vs. Montreal Impact looming, wouldn’t they want to get the match in and get out of town ASAP, even if it meant playing past midnight? Apparently not.
According to Vlamakis, “Columbus was good sports about [postponing the game]. They understand that it’s not something we have any control over. To be fair to them, they would prefer to know what the plan was vs. waiting two hours or two hours after that.”
True, but many were justifiably perturbed with the handling of the situation. Critics claimed the match should have been called much earlier in the day, citing safety concerns for fans who made the trip to Toyota Park on Wednesday night.
Fourth Round – Columbus Crew 1 :: 2 Chicago Fire
June 13 – Toyota Park, Bridgeview IL – Attd: 2,006
CLB: Konrad Warzycha (Ben Speas) 22
CHI: Mike Magee (Gonzalo Segares) 29
CHI: Patrick Nyarko (Chris Rolfe) 77
CLB: Konrad Warzycha 71, Bernardo Anor 90+
CHI: Mike Magee 71, Patrick Nyarko 82, Bakary Soumare 90+
Columbus: Andy Gruenebaum; Kevan George, Glauber (Dominic Oduro 9), Eric Gehrig, Tyson Wahl; Konrad Warzycha, Bernardo Anor, Tony Tchani (Aaron Schoenfeld 82), Ben Speas (Federico Higuain 70); Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay… Substitutes not used: Matt Lampson, Chad Barson, Danny O’Rourke, Matias Sanchez
Chicago: Sean Johnson; Jalil Anibaba, Bakary Soumare, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares; Patrick Nyarko, Alex (Jeff Larentowicz 81), Logan Pause (Daniel Paladini 59), Dilly Duka (Maicon Santos 46’); Chris Rolfe, Mike Magee… Substitutes not used: Paolo Tornaghi, Hunter Jumper, Michael Videira, Sherjill MacDonald