The US Open Cup is known for its wild upsets and magical moments, but the host Chicago Fire made sure that none of that took place on Wednesday night as they soundly defeated Chicago House Athletic Club 3-0 at SeatGeek Stadium in their Third Round tie.
Two goals in the span of 11 minutes gave the Fire a comfortable lead going into the break, and they kept their foot on the gas pedal. They grabbed a third with about 20 minutes to go, and that final goal allowed them to coast to a comfortable victory.
“It’s been a long time since this organization won a trophy. Tonight was an opportunity for us to start changing that,” said head coach Ezra Hendrickson. “This tournament is a way to reconnect with our fans. It’s something that supporters are really up for, and it can ignite and energize a fanbase, and that’s something we need to do. What better tournament to do it in than the Open Cup?”
“It’s a big tournament for us,” said defender Kendall Burks, who scored twice on the night. “We talk about it in the locker room all the time. It’s something we want to win, and it’s something we think we can win, and tonight was just the first step in doing that.”
Their starting lineup was a real signal of intent, as the likes of Federico Navarro, Maren Haile-Selassie, and Mauricio Pineda all got the nod from the opening whistle.
Things were still pretty even to open up the contest, and the House actually had a fair share of the ball early on. The Fire eventually grew into the game and slowly took control of proceedings.
Neither side created much of anything until the 25th minute, when the hosts struck first. Miguel Navarro was given too much space out wide, which allowed him to hit a quality cross into the area. The goalkeeper missed it, and Kacper Przybylko was at the right place at the right time to slot home from close range.
It was 2-0 about 10 minutes later. A corner from Alonso Aceves picked out Kendall Burks, and he rose highest before finding the bottom corner with an excellent header. That’s how simple the goal was, and it gave the Fire some much-needed breathing room in the matchup.
They almost killed the game off with a third goal right after. Youngster Alex Monis broke past the opposing backline, but he dragged his shot just wide of the far post. That was the end of the action in terms of the first half. The Fire didn’t create too many chances, but converted the ones that came their way.
The hosts came out strong following the break, trying to grab that match-sealing third goal. It came in the 69th minute, and again it came via Burks and a corner. This one had an added wrinkle, though, as the corner from Aceves first found Wyatt Omsberg, who cleverly flicked it towards the backpost. That’s where Burks was, and he reacted quickest to convert from just a few yards out.
It was another wonderful moment in what proved to be a dream night for the centerback, who scored twice, secured the clean sheet, and came away with the victory.
“Being a centerback, you don’t expect to score a lot of goals, let alone two in one game. It was definitely good to get on the scoresheet,” he said. “Being in the starting lineup today was a good confidence booster. I feel like I’ve been improving each day, and that’s the biggest thing for me.”
The Fire killed the contest off at that point, as their main objective was getting the job done and booking their spot in the next round.
“It feels a lot better than last year, that’s for sure,” said goalkeeper Spencer Richey, who was the starter when the Fire were knocked out by Union Omaha in the Third Round last season. “There’s no easy cup game. Everytime you play a lower-division side you know that they’re going to give you everything they have. It’s important that we do well in this competition. There’s always going to be some rotation, and hopefully whatever group is on the field in the next round can get the job done and we can go from there.”
For House, it was an emotional end to their stellar cup run. They had won five games just to get to this stage, and they were one of only two amateur teams in the Third Round. Despite the loss, there was still a lot for the club to be proud of.
“You know, one of our centerbacks is a senior in high school and he’s got school in the morning,” said House head coach Matt Poland. “It’s an awesome experience for us. From where we were a year ago to where we are now is an incredible achievement. This was a great platform for our guys to showcase themselves against some really talented players, and this should give our team confidence going into the summer season.”