After a Fourth Round match against the Columbus Crew that ended in a wild penalty shootout, the Chicago Fire needed just one goal and 90 minutes to continue its 2018 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup run.
Nemanja Nikolic’s 54th minute goal – his third goal of the competition – was enough to lead the Fire past Atlanta United 1-0 in front of an announced crowd of 41,012. It was the largest crowd to ever watch a US Open Cup game in the 105-year history of the tournament. It shattered the previous mark of 35,615 set in the 2011 Final when the Seattle Sounders hosted the Fire at CenturyLink Field.
For the Fire, they clinch a spot in the Quarterfinals for the 14th time in club history , which ranks third-most in tournament history. They will host their next game in the tournament on July 18 when they take on Louisville City FC (USL).
Atlanta United held the better of the play over the first half of the match, relying on strong possession and the play of Tito Villalba on the right wing – with that said, they failed to make the most of their chances and petered out a little as time went on. Chicago nearly made it 1-0 on the 16th minute off of a corner that was nearly touched home by Bastain Schweinsteiger, but barely kept from going over the line by Alec Kann.
Atlanta’s best chance came in the 33rd minute, as a beautiful run and curling shot by Villalba was stopped by Fire keeper Richard Sanchez.
But poor defending on Atlanta’s part saw the Fire strike first in the 54th minute. Luis Solignac was afforded too much time to pass the ball to Nikolic, who calmly pegged it past Alec Kann for his team-leading ninth goal across all competitions. From there, Atlanta’s attempts to level the match and force extra time fell short as it lost in the Round of 16 for the second straight year.
“We spoke before the game that we wanted to keep the ball and create space,” said Nikolic. “It was great action from the whole team, from behind and in the finishing from (Aleksandar) Katai, (Schweinsteiger), and of course who made that final pass. For me, it was like he scored – it was an amazing pass from him.”
The Fire don’t continue in the competition until July 18 when they host USL side Louisville City in the quarterfinals, but they’ll hope to use this win to make a run toward getting back to playoff position in MLS, starting with an away match at Seattle on Saturday. They currently sit in seventh in the Eastern Conference, level with Orlando City in points with 19 but with five wins to Orlando’s six.
After winning in a stadium where Atlanta United have generally enjoyed an advantage, and in front of a USOC record crowd, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic hopes that it can give his team an extra push, both in the Open Cup and in MLS play.
“We achieved something that not many teams have done here – winning at this beautiful venue,” he said. “For our club, the tradition for fighting for the Open Cup means a lot, and getting this win today…I believe we are slowly getting to the point to play the way we played last year.”
A nail-biter to the final whistle https://t.co/1RMevHXwuL
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 21, 2018