Cleat Geeks

Six Alarm Fire: Chicago Fire vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.  –  After a long break, the U.S. Open Cup has returned, as the last remaining non-MLS team in the competition looks to continue their Cinderella story against the Chicago Fire in the quarterfinal round of this historic tournament.USOpenCup

For those unfamiliar with the American professional soccer scene, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is a single-elimination tournament where virtually all amateur and professional soccer teams in the United States have an opportunity to compete for America’s national championship. The winning team receives a $250,000 cash prize and an automatic berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, a competition that determines the best team in North & Central America.

The importance of this competition cannot be understated, as it affords even the lowest soccer teams in the country the opportunity to compete against the largest and most successful clubs America has to offer. It is the third-oldest domestic soccer competition in history.

Let’s start with the visitors – the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because this team bears the same name as the old “Fort Lauderdale Strikers” that played against the likes of George Best and Pele in the North American Soccer League during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Interestingly, this current incarnation of the Strikers also plays in the NASL; however, this incarnation is a second-division league that has no relation with the original league.

FireVSstrikersThe Strikers have had a difficult road to this stage in the competition, having to beat MLS mainstays D.C. United on penalties during the Fourth Round before upsetting MLS newcomers Orlando City SC by a 2-1 margin on June 20th. During league play, the Strikers have not been nearly as successful, as they currently sit in eighth place and well out of the NASL Playoffs.

The Fire have played two matches in this year’s U.S. Open Cup, needing penalties to defeat NASL side Indy Eleven in the Fourth Round and taking care of Eastern Conference rival Columbus Crew SC in the Round of 16. David Accam scored three goals in two Open Cup matches prior to tonight’s match.

David Accam was a man on a mission during the first half, as he put the ball in the back of the net on a PK during the fifth minute of play before setting up newly-acquired forward Michael de Leeuw for an easy touch into the goal to give Chicago a comfortable 2-0 lead at the halftime break. On the visiting side, the Strikers were plagued by a lack of discipline, as a 30th-minute yellow card and a silly foul from the keeper led to the Fire seizing control of this match right from the start.

The second half was kicked off by 22-year old midfielder Khaly Thiam, who netted his first Open Cup goal and just his second in a Fire shirt with a rebound in the 51st minute. Thiam joined the Fire on loan from Hungarian first-division club MTK Budapest FC and has proven invaluable during his short time in the Windy City. The Strikers’ day got worse in the second half, as Gale Abossoumonde was shown his second yellow in the 70th minute, putting his team a man down for the remainder of the contest.

During the post-match press conference, Fort Lauderdale Strikers head coach Caio Zanardi was grateful for the opportunity to advance this far in the tournament, saying “It was a great moment for us to be here in the quarterfinal after beating D.C. United and Orlando City.” He also explained his team’s lackluster performance by saying: “We have played more than six games in a row and we are very tired, but it was a great moment for us.”

However, Strikers goalkeeper Diego Restrepo was not so easy-going about the defeat: “We’ve been traveling the country back and forth playing games, but this is a profession…we’re proud that we got this far, but we’re not going to swallow this one for awhile and we wish we could have it back and start over again.”

Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic was in a much better mood following tonight’s victory – “We’re very happy, very excited, I think the performance was very good from our team.”

DavidAccamLockerRoomIn the locker room following the match, David Accam spoke highly of his team, especially of his new teammate and attacking partner, 29-year old Dutch striker Michael de Leeuw, saying “The guy (de Leeuw) is a good striker [and] I think we are getting a good feel for each other.”

Even though they lost this match, the Strikers can leave with their heads held high  – and a $15,000 check courtesy of the United States Soccer Federation. As for the Fire, they advance to a semi-final contest on August 10th, where they will take on fellow Eastern Conference bottom dwellers New England Revolution. The winner of that match will take on the winner of the other semi-final, which features the LA Galaxy and FC Dallas.

The Strikers return to NASL play on Saturday when they host Minnesota United FC, while Chicago will look to carry their momentum into MLS play when they host USMNT star midfielder Lee Nguyen and the New England Revolution this Saturday night at Toyota Park.

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