Photo by Stephen Brashear/ISIphotos.com
By DAVID GUBALA
It was almost the perfect redemption to an unaccomplished season for the Chicago Fire. Winning the U.S. Open Cup for the fifth time in club history would have overshadowed all of the losses, unnecessary draws, and most importantly, potentially missing out on the playoffs.
But it wasn't meant to be.
Chicago Fire's 2011 Open Cup run was quite an impressive one for a team that struggled for much of the season, but it ended with a 2-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders Tuesday night.
"We reached the final, the moment is now and we put everything into it," said interim head coach Frank Klopas, who scored the golden goal to give the Fire the 1998 Open Cup title. "This is in the past. There's nothing we can do about it but try to learn and try to get better and our focus in on Dallas. What's done is done. We've got to regroup, refocus and try to get three wins."
The Fire currently sit on 37 points from 31 matches in MLS league play and are hanging on by a thread in hopes of sneaking into the playoffs. With New York up to 43 points from its win over the L.A. Galaxy, the Fire need victories in their last three matches to have a shot at an improbable playoff berth.
Chicago returns MLS play when it takes on FC Dallas on Oct. 12 at Toyota Park. The Fire travel that to RFK Stadium to take on D.C. United on the 15th before closing down the regular season against the Columbus Crew on Oct. 22nd.
While those games are what lies ahead, here's a look back at the Fire's Open Cup run:
3/30 – Chicago Fire 2-1 Colorado Rapids (Puerari, Anibaba)
The Fire played their USOC first play-in match in Peoria, Ill., a good three hours away from Chicago. Former forward Gaston Puerari scored first, and rookie Jalil Anibaba scoring a beautiful goal from about 40 yards out.
5/24 – San Jose Earthquakes 2-2 Chicago Fire, (4-5PKs) (Cuesta, Barrouch)
An impressive second half comeback in Santa Clara led to a do-or-die scenario in penalty kicks following Yamith Cuesta's last minute goal that sent the game into overtime. Daniel Paladini made his fifth shot while Scott Sealy hit the crossbar. The Fire moved on to the U.S. Open Cup for the 14th straight year.
6/28 – Rochester Rhinos 0-1 Chicago Fire (Chaves)
The Fire survived a late onslaught from the USL Pro side and managed to get the win with a Diego Chaves goal. Despite fielding a starting XI of mostly reserves, the Fire were able to sneak into the quarterfinals.
7/12 – Chicago Fire 4-0 New York Red Bulls (Oduro, Cuesta, Barrouch x2)
The slaughter of the Red Bulls that day was quite memorable for many reasons, most notably because the Red Bulls sent a reserve team, and NY manager Hans Backe didn't travel for the match, either. There was a massive storm in the Bridgeview area the night before that took out power at Toyota park and forced the game to be moved back into a daylight kickoff time.
8/30 – Chicago Fire 2-1 Richmond Kickers (Grazzini, Oduro)
The Fire featuring first team in both quarterfinal and semifinal matches made it clear that the USOC was something the club took seriously. Summer acquisition Sebastian Grazzini was able to notch a goal along with Dominic Oduro, and the Fire booked a ticket to Seattle.
10/4 – Seattle Sounders 2-0 Chicago Fire
The Sounders held on to possession for most of the game and pretty much dominated the second half. Chicago were struggling with the turf and weren't able to adjust to the pace of the game. A Fredy Montero rebound and an Osvaldo Alonso goal in the dying seconds gave the Sounders a third consecutive U.S. Open Cup trophy.
What did you think of the Fire's Open Cup run? Can you see Chicago sneaking into the playoffs, or is there too much to be done?
Share your thoughts below.