The Fire came to SeatGeek Stadium to play the first Chicago Derby in 23 years with one goal: Win, and advance in the U.S. Open Cup, a competition that has historically been good to the team.
Mission accomplished. The Fire ultimately dispatched Chicago House A.C. of the amateur Midwest Premier League by a score of 3-0 on a chilly Wednesday evening at SeatGeek Stadium. House A.C.’s fairytale run through the Cup is over, but the team had every right to leave their former home stadium with their head held high after a strong performance in front of a crowd with a large contingent of supporters and larger contingent of sympathizers.
Pulling out all stops to avoid a repeat of last year’s opening-match US Open Cup loss to third-division Union Omaha, Fire Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson rolled out a lineup composed entirely of first team players, including two starters from last Sunday’s match against Atlanta in Jonathan Dean and Maren Haile-Selassie.
Alonso Aceves, brought in earlier this year to add competition at left back, got his first start in a Fire jersey playing as a left winger alongside Haile-Selassie, with homegrown player Alex Monis on the right wing. Frequent starters from last season including Fede Navarro, Mauricio Pineda, Miguel Ángel Navarro, and Wyatt Omsberg all started the match, as did Kendall Burks and Spencer Richey, in his first appearance since MLS Matchday 1.
The win is a first in the U.S. Open Cup competition for Ezra Hendrickson as a head coach and marks the first victory for the Fire in the competition since 2018, but it did not come quickly. Although the Fire had the lion’s share of possession and generated pressure throughout most of the first half, the team struggled to generate real chances or dangerous shots.
Still, the Fire finally broke through in the 26th minute as Kacper Przybyłko received a pass from Miguel Ángel Navarro at point-blank range from the House goal and buried it. The goal marks the first time the Fire scored from open play of the US Open Cup since Elliot Collier notched a stoppage-time goal against Louisville City FC on July 18, 2018.
Just over 11 minutes later, the Fire doubled their lead as Kendall Burks received a ball from Alonso Aceves and scored his second professional goal of his career, and first with the senior Fire team. The Fire had several additional chances but were unable to convert as a Mauricio Pineda shot from distance sailed above House goalkeeper Tony Halterman’s net to close out the first half.
This left the House in a familiar position, entering the locker room at half down by two goals against a professional side that was heavily favored before the game began. The Fire made two substitutes at the half, replacing Federico Navarro, still working his way to full match fitness, with Javier Casas, and Maren Haile-Selassie with Sergio Oregel.
In their last game against Forward Madison, House were able to start their come-from-behind victory by opening their end of the scoring ledger midway through the second half. True to script, the team pressed higher up the field after the break in search of a goal, and the hero of that game, team captain A.R. Smith Jr. helped create one of the team’s better chances of the night in the 68th minute.
Unlike the last game, however, this shot was stopped, and instead, it was the Fire who scored the next goal as Burks completed a brace in the 70th minute of the game as Wyatt Omsberg flicked a pass from Alonso Aceves, capping strong play from the young Mexican player as he was subbed of just a few minutes later. Asked about his performance after the game, Hendrickson said that Aceves was “probably the best player on the pitch – very dangerous on set pieces, his crosses, his defending, everything was good,” noting “that bodes well for us, to let us know someone we can put on the pitch Saturday nights in MLS games.”
Despite being down three goals late in the second half, House would remain unbowed, continuing to press as Head Coach Matt Poland used the full extent of his bench, including a triple substitution in the 86th minute, either in search of an unlikely hero or to give as much of his young squad as possible the chance to say they went toe-to-toe with an MLS opponent and didn’t flinch. He noted after the game that tonight’s game made them just the 9th amateur team in history to face an MLS side, and that his team includes a number of young players including a center back in high school with classes the next day. Ultimately, however, Chicago House A.C.’s remarkable run has come to an end just as the Fire cruised to a 3-0 victory and on to the Round of 32 in the competition.
The Chicago Fire resume their MLS season Saturday at 7:30 against the New York Red Bulls. Their next US Open Cup match will played May 9-10 against an opponent TBD.