Both the Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo entered the U.S. Open Cup with a simple mission: Win six games and hoist a trophy. Both clubs are halfway to that mark, but only one will get a fourth win as the Fire host Houston Tuesday evening at SeatGeek Stadium.
Both teams will be tested in more ways than one: The match is the 10th in the past month for both clubs, testing both the endurance of the players, the depth of their rosters, and the creativity of their coaching staff as the teams near the midpoint of their league seasons and a welcome international break in the middle of June.
SeatGeek Stadium is the site of the Fire’s most recent U.S. Open Cup victory (and trophy of any kind) in 2006, and the Fire return to their former home ground hoping to punch their ticket to the semifinal round for the fifth time in the past decade.
This is the first meeting between the two clubs in U.S. Open Cup play
MLS All time: 8W-8D-11L, 33 GF, 38 GA, 32 pts out of 81
Last Match: June 25, 2022: Houston 2-0 Fire at PNC Stadium, Houston, Tex.
League Record: 5W-3D-7L (18 pts)
The Dynamo have dropped their previous two games, losing 3-0 at St. Louis on Saturday and 6-2 against Vancouver midweek. The loss on Saturday saw the team fall out of a playoff spot, but they have a game in hand over the majority of the teams above them in the standings.
In Open Cup play, Houston beat Minnesota 4-0 in their round of 16 games, scoring three of those goals after Minnesota’s Kervin Arriaga was sent off after receiving his second yellow of the match. Their previous match also featured a red card, as Houston played short a man for the majority of their Round of 32 game against Sporting KC but managed to hold on to a one-goal lead to see them through. 1-0 was also the score in their opening game against the lower-division Tampa Bay Rowdies.
3W-7D-5L (17 pts)
A heavily-rotated Fire squad fell 1-0 at Cincinnati on Saturday, allowing the hosts to keep their perfect home record. The match was their third road game in a row that saw the team play Toronto to a 0-0 on Wednesday after conceding giving up one-goal leads on three separate occasions to draw the New England Revolution 3-3. All three games featured lineups with some amount of tinkering against the team’s best XI.
The Fire continued their U.S. Open Cup run on Wednesday with a victory over Austin FC in the first-ever competitive meeting between the two teams. In their most recent league game, the Fire played Atlanta to a 3-3 draw at Soldier Field, salvaging a point in a match in which they played down a man for half the game.
The U.S. Open Cup is beautiful in its simplicity: Win, or go home. Win enough games, and hoist the trophy – one of the oldest in global soccer. The Cup gives us David-and-Goliath storylines, unlikely heroes, views of unique venues, and global stars playing in shiny new soccer-specific stadiums. The Cup is never short on drama, and we at MenInRed97 are firm believers in the magic of the Cup.
It’s magic that both Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas and Houston’s Head Coach Ben Olsen have experienced firsthand: Klopas scored the goal that won the team the U.S. Open Cup – and thereby the double – in the club’s inaugural year, and Ben Olsen coached D.C. United to an Open Cup victory against Real Salt Lake in 2013.
The match marks the second time that these two coaches will face off in the Open Cup: To get to that 2013 final, D.C. beat the Fire 2-0 in Bridgeview.
Klopas will be looking to avenge that loss – and he has some reason for confidence: In addition to coaching the team to the semifinal round in 2013, he also shepherded the team to a U.S. Open Cup final appearance in 2011 in his first year as head coach, and the Fire remain undefeated at home across all competitions this season.
Tactics and Projected Starting Lineups
Out: Ifunanyachi Achara, Teenage Hadebe, Tate Schmitt
Questionable: Daniel Steres
Fairly or not, Olsen came to Houston after his career with D.C. United (11 years as coaching, ten years as a head coach with one more as an assistant) with a reputation as a coach that could make a below-average squad punch above its weight but make an above-average squad look pedestrian, with tactics that, while sound, weren’t terribly innovative. Whether that reputation was fairly earned or not, the performance of designated players in his time under Houston has been underwhelming, to say the least.
Olsen has been flexible with his formations over the years, but this season, he seems to have standardized on a 4-3-3 for most of the team’s matches, though he’s also played the team out of a 3-5-2 and, at times, a 4-2-3-1 (which was his preferred formation in 2022). He has played a 3-5-2 in two of the team’s three previous Open Cup games, but given the strength that the Fire have through their attacking midfield (regardless of what formation Klopas rolls out), sticking with a four-man back line when playing a match away seems like the smartest bet.
One thing that Olsen hasn’t standardized is player positions, due in part to the flexibility of his squad. Both #11 Corey Baird and #8 Amine Bassi have played on both wings and as a striker; #20 Adalberto Carrasquilla has played in multiple defensive midfield roles as well as in the attack, and #2 Franco Escobar has played on both the left and right.
#5 Daniel Steres (listed as questionable but who has been a stalwart on the back line when available, so is likely to play if able) has played both at centerback and wider. #4 Ethan Bartlow has been a lock at starter throughout league play.
Mexican national team captain and former Athlético Madrid player #16 Héctor Herrera is by far the most recognizable name on the Houston, and has three goals and four assists to his name so far this season, already improving on his numbers from last year when he was limited to just ten games and a single assist. Though he may not have quite lived up to expectations from when he was signed, he remains dangerous and capable.
Designated player #9 Sebastián Ferreira was a virtual lock at starter in 2022, but this year under Ben Olsen has failed to find any form, making just two starts and nine appearances, and has yet to find his way onto the score sheet. Though he hasn’t started for the club lately, he is talented, and a hunch is that Olsen might try to see if he can make find the form in the Open Cup that he hasn’t in league play.
Out: Jonathan Dean, Chris Mueller, Mauricio Pineda, Carlos Terán
On Saturday, Klopas rolled out a starting XI at an away game against a team with the only perfect home record in the league that didn’t include the team’s leading scorer, the league’s highest-paid player, the normal captain (and best available center back), most experienced defensive midfielder or craftiest, fastest winger.
Why? Because, friends, despite the schedule congestion, despite the fact that the Fire have continued to have close-but-not-quite performances in league play, Klopas is in it to win it with this match.
This lineup probably represents the best players that Klopas has available to him, in something like the best form, and squad rotation has meant that many have legs that, if not rested, not at least entirely turned to rubber.
There are good arguments to see the team play a four in the backline, but that was arguably even more true last Saturday when the team didn’t, and playing three in the back seems a calculated risk against a team that has averaged exactly 1.0 goals per game in league play but who have been defensively competent.
Spencer Richey has been the Fire’s Cup goalkeeper this season, a sacred position that shall not be infringed, so regardless of whether Brady is ready to play or not should start in the net.
Captain Rafael Czichos will return to his starting spot at centerback. With Terán out, Kendall Burks will likely keep his starting spot in the back line alongside Arnaud Souquet, with Miguel Ángel Navarro and Arnaud Souquet playing more as wingbacks, using their speed to help break down Houston’s lines.
Gastón Giménez and Federico Navarro remain the team’s best options in the defensive midfield.
In their and sometimes in practice, the Fire’s best option is to have Xherdan Shaqiri and Brian Gutiérrez on the field at the same time, with both allowed to play to their strengths, which include creative playmaking and good passing alongside an ability to score. We’ve seen the Fire do this with dual #10s feeding a sole striker, and that is probably Klopas’s best option to feed Kei Kamara, who has remained the team’s best striker.
Although that squad represents the Fire’s likely best XI, Georgios Koutsias has started to make it onto the pitch and look like he belongs, and Jairo Torres has quietly, slowly but surely, been making a strong case that he deserves to start more often.
Even Kacper Przybyłko – who many Fire fans had written by the end of last season – has started to play better. Ultimately, having to keep players on the bench who deserve minutes is a good problem for Klopas to have, particularly given the sheer mileage put on his squad’s cleats over the past month.
Fire Keys to Victory
- Eye on the prize: Yes, it’s the 10th game in a month for the team, and they have another game looming on Saturday, their sole home game in MLS play this month, but the team is halfway to an Open Cup victory. If they win, only the LA Galaxy or Real Salt Lake, two beatable opponents, stand in their path to a final appearance. The Fire have to remember what they’re playing for and that this is doable. They need this belief to overcome fatigue, mental and physical, to stay sharp against Houston.
- Shoot to score: One of the things the Fire haven’t been doing much of this season is shooting from outside the box. In league play, they’ve done it less than almost any other team and as a result, have scored fewer goals from outside the 18 than almost any other team. With speedy players like Maren Haile-Selassie and a rotated squad, even if the initial shots don’t make it in, they create the possibility for follow-up chances that may.
- Klopas, kingmaker of the Cup: Klopas’s goal secured the team’s first Open Cup victory. He coached the team to a semi-final and a final appearance. As manager, he is, more than anything, a motivator of his squad and he is capable of leading his squad past Houston.
Magic of the Cup.
Prediction: Fire 1 – 0 Houston
Houston rested a couple of regular starters, but they were mostly starters in the attack. Their defensive starters are both tired and trash based on their past few games. I think that this is one game that the Fire may actually be able to jump their opponent. However, Fires are Fires, and it’s gonna look a lot closer at the end of the day.
Prediction: Fire 3-2 Houston
Klopas gets the team up for this match, and the best players show what happens when they’re all playing at the same time – something the Fire’s schedule hasn’t given Klopas the liberty of putting on display very often of late. In Klopas we trust.
Prediction: Fire 3-1 Houston
Prediction: Fire 3-1 Houston
Match Information and How to Watch
Date and Time: Tuesday, June 6, 7:30 PM CT
Location: SeatGeek Stadium, Bridgeview, Ill.
Forecast: 68’F expected at kick off, with 60% humidity, winds NNE at 10mph, 75% cloud cover and 21% chance of precipitation
TV: CBS Sports Golazo Network – Available on CBS Sports and Paramount+ apps for connected TVs