The Chicago Fire’s U.S. Open Cup run will open tomorrow with a highly-anticipated derby day against local amateur club Chicago House. For most, House will be a mystery, as they have only played at the semi-pro and amateur levels, though they have received some attention for their run to the Open Cup proper, as well as their stunning 3-2 comeback win in extra time against League One’s Forward Madison. To learn more about this startup team ahead of tomorrow’s match, we spoke with Adnan Bašić of Vavel.
For Fire fans who may not be as familiar with Chicago House, can you tell us a little bit more about their background as a club, and how they’ve reached the point they’re at now?
Chicago House Athletic Club was founded back in 2020, and they spent their first season in the professional NISA league. They were forced to become an amateur team the following year due to economic issues, and they now play in the Midwest Premier League. They had to apply just to enter the qualifying stages of the Open Cup, and after five wins (three in qualifying, two in the tournament) they find themselves here. Their main man behind the scenes is former Fire general manager Peter Wilt, and they’ve got a very impressive young head coach in Matt Poland.
House have had a crazy Open Cup run to reach the Third Round. What have been the highlights of that journey?
Definitely their final Open Cup qualifying game against Brockton FC. The match took place in Massachusetts for some reason, even though the Cup is all about regional matchups. Brockton opened the scoring very early, and then the House tied things up late on. The stream then started acting up. At one point the game was being broadcasted vertically, but flipped on its side at the same time. The overtime period was cut down to only 20 minutes because Brockton didn’t want to pay to turn on the stadium lights. The game went to penalties, and the shootout went so long that it ended in almost total darkness. I genuinely didn’t see the final penalty go in, I just saw the players start celebrating. Beating USL side Forward Madison in the last round was also a massive moment for the club.
The Chicago Derby will be the biggest game in the history of House; how will they approach the game, and what should be expected from their style of play?
Not exactly parking the bus anti-football, but the House will play quite defensively. They like to keep things solid at the back, and they make themselves hard to beat. It’s kind of similar to how the Fire has played under Ezra Hendrickson. When they get on the ball they like to play more direct, making a few short passes before hitting a longer ball in behind or down the wing. They also like to have their midfielders, namely AR Smith, make late runs into the penalty area.
Which players should Fire fans watch out for in particular on Wednesday?
AR Smith will obviously be the main man. He’s the club captain, and he was named the Open Cup’s player of the second round following his brace versus Forward Madison. He’s a bit of a midfielder-forward hybrid, and his position will depend on the flow of the game and how much time is left. The centerback pairing of John Makowiecki and Naz Kabbani has been quality as of late, and they’ll have a tough test ahead of them. They’re both good at dealing with crosses, whether in the air or on the ground. Then there’s Aaron Nguyen, who’s a tidy midfielder, and he could produce a moment of magic on the ball in the right situation.