Chicago Fire 1, Houston Dynamo 4.
Few would have expected that scoreline when they shuffled into SeatGeek Stadium tonight and absolutely no one wanted to believe it was even possible.
Yet, it happened. And the Chicago Fire are out of the U.S. Open Cup at the quarterfinal stage.
Frank Klopas’ starting team was effectively his best one; apart from Spencer Richey in goal, the designated cup-keeper, the eleven was all first choice. Mauricio Pineda returned from concussion protocol at center back with Rafa Czichos in the middle of the back three and Arnaud Souquet on the right side, Miguel Ángel Navarro and Maren Haile-Selassie filled out the wingback spots, with Fede Navarro and Gastón Giménez partnering in the middle. DP Xherdan Shaqiri and star homegrown Brian Gutiérrez started together underneath Kei Kamara.
The game started just about as poorly as it possibly could for the Fire. Houston may be sitting below the Western Conference playoff line, but they came out aggressively from the opening whistle, and the hosts struggled to cope. Things took a turn for the worst when Souquet gave away a penalty less than a dozen minutes into the game, and Amine Bassi duly converted.
For the remainder of the half, the Dynamo continued to pile on the pressure and played with freedom and confidence. A giveaway by Fede Navarro forced Richey to make a big save five minutes after the goal to keep the score 1-0, but in truth, the Fire were all over the place defensively. Adalberto Carrasquilla even put the ball in the back of the net for what appeared to be another goal, but luckily the offside flag went up.
The second goal did come eventually. In the 32nd minute, Aliyu Ibrahim found far too much space with a run in behind and slotted the ball past Richey to double the score. For a moment, it seemed like it would be too much to overcome, and flashbacks to that 4-0 playoff loss to the Red Bulls began to sink in.
It just took one moment to breathe life back into Bridgeview. A Shaqiri free-kick found the head of Souquet, whose lofted header made its way into the goal at the back post. The momentum shifted the Fire’s way, and they came close to finding a quick equalizer when Haile-Selassie’s header was saved. They entered the break down a goal, but re-energized, and came out in the second half ready to play.
In the 52nd minute, the Fire should have received an opportunity to draw level. Gutiérrez, one-on-one with Andrew Tarbell, rounded the keeper and was clearly fouled. Instead of awarding a penalty and a red card, referee Marcos Deoliveria only awarded a corner kick. The fans were not happy and bombarded the field with garbage. The displeasure of both the Fire players and fans were clearly felt, but it could not spark an extended push for an equalizing goal.
Just seven minutes after the egregious no-call, it went from bad to worse. A spilled rebound by Richey allowed Ibrahim to score his second of the match, restoring the two-goal cushion and putting a comeback out of the Fire’s reach. Nelson Quiñónes added a fourth with fifteen minutes to play after Héctor Herrera pounced on a slip from substitute Kendall Burks, compiling the Fire’s misery, confirming their elimination, and bringing up more painful memories of the past.
For the Men in Red, this one hurts. In a painfully average MLS season, the Open Cup has been a much-needed source of joy, and this run to the last eight restored hope for many fans. Despite the unfortunate result, tonight’s atmosphere was lively, and the supporters really showed up despite the Tuesday night setting. Unfortunately, though, the dream of bringing a trophy back to Chicago and becoming the first MLS team to win five Open Cups will have to wait another year.