Five for Fire: Chicago torches Orlando City to advance to USOC semifinals
OTF Editor Scott Fenwick was at Toyota Park on Wednesday night to witness the Fire’s 5-1 beat down of Florida’s best soccer team…
In its third – and arguably most important – match in an eight-day span, Chicago Fire hosted North American soccer darlings and MLS aspirants Orlando City SC in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal Wednesday night at Toyota Park. While the USL Pro’s Lions looked to prove their worth with yet another tournament upset, the Men in Red were hell-bent on continuing their run towards a historic fifth U.S. Open Cup.
In the modern era, only one lower-division club (Rochester Rhinos, 1999) had ever knocked off three MLS opponents in a row. But the Lions slept on Wednesday night in Bridgeview and endured a 5-1 thrashing in front of 6893 raucous Fire fans.
A fatigued Fire side came in riding high on a seven-match unbeaten stretch (5-0-2) across all competitions, while the well-rested Lions traveled to the Windy City having only played a home friendly vs. Brazil’s Fluminense (3-4 loss) since upsetting Sporting Kansas City on the road (1-0) two weeks prior. Heading into Wednesday night, OCFC had not lost a competitive match since April 10th.
For eight of Chicago’s eleven starters, it was their third start in eight days.
“We were tired, but we pushed through it,” said 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry, who has logged every possible minute for Chicago in 2013 across all competitions.
Shortly after the whistle the Lions had a rough go of it, as midfielder James O’Connor went down early and was replaced by Christian Duke in the 4th minute.
Uncharacteristically, Chicago struck first. Fed by forward Mike Magee on the left flank, winger Dilly Duka ran toward the byline and cut a 90 degree angle, perpendicular to goal at the edge of the penalty area. Duka made a move to dribble into the box, but instead fed a streaking Chris Rolfe at its edge, who headed home past Lions ‘keeper Miguel Gallardo in the 6th minute for his second goal in 2013 USOC competition.
“I thought Dilly was going to serve it first time, so I made my initial run, but as I started to back out, I gave a little shake to the right, the defender kind of fell back on his heels, and allowed me the space to come at the near post,” said Rolfe.
The Lions responded by showing Chicago they could keep the ball on the ground and play the possession game through the midfield and into the attacking third. But Orlando found no joy within 20 yards of Sean Johnson’s goal, as center back Bakary Soumare and midfield destroyer Jeff Larentowicz led a Fire defensive effort that snuffed out the Lions’ attack.
Back and forth action continued through the first half, with neither side seizing a real advantage. Chicago tried to pump and chip long, floating balls over the top and into the box, but Orlando’s back line prevented the creation of any Fire threat. However, Lions ‘keeper Miguel Gallardo did pass a few tests from Magee, Rolfe, Larentowicz by the time the whistle blew.
Shortly after halftime, Orlando City sprung to life and took advantage of what appeared to be a heavy-legged Fire side.
After a corner was played on the ground to him, Lions midfielder Kevin Molino found enough space deep on the flank to serve a pinpoint pass to teammate Rob Valentino, who one-timed the ball past Chicago’s Sean Johnson at the near post to knot the game at one in the 51st minute.
After poor marking and sloppy set-piece defending, the Fire had a game on its hands.
For the next seven minutes, Orlando City bossed the run of play. The Lions were in total control as they camped out in Chicago’s defensive third and took pot shots at Sean Johnson. But the Fire ‘keeper would not yield. Johnson foiled two scoring opportunities by Dom Dwyer and Adama Mbengue that left the Lions perplexed after having their way with Chicago for a significant period of time.
“Sean had a great second half,” said teammate Dilly Duka. “He helped us come back into this game, and then we finished our chances.”
While the Fire fell asleep temporarily and paid the price, they soon woke up in a big way, led by Patrick Nyarko and Chris Rolfe.
After possessing a less-than-stellar goal kick from Johnson, Nyarko found space on the left and drove, undefended, towards the near post. Orlando’s back line could not get itself organized in time and Chicago’s Ghanaian winger made them pay with an on-the-ground far post netter that put the Men in Red up 2-1. To his team’s detriment, Lions ‘keeper Gallardo guessed near post and watched in vain as the eventual game-winner rolled by his outstretched leg.
After the Lions played so well in the beginning of the second half did Nyarko’s strike take the wind out of their sails?
“Yes, for sure,” said Dilly Duka, who wound up with two assists on the evening. “They were all over us at the start of the second half. Patrick scored, we settled a little, and they kind of sat back after that.”
“Patrick’s goal was a game-changer. At that point it was tied, they had tons of momentum, and we didn’t look like we had much life. Patrick’s goal was the most important moment for us tonight,” revealed Chris Rolfe, who wasn’t yet done on the evening.
In the 64th minute, Jeff Larentowicz fed the ball forward through traffic from just outside the top of the penalty area to Rolfe. Out rushed Gallardo, but his reaction was a split-second tardy, as Rolfe was able to get enough of a foot on the ball to chip the ‘keeper and put it into the back of the net.
A brace for Chris Rolfe and the rout was on.
However, Sean Johnson wasn’t off the hook. Forward Dom Dwyer tested the Chicago ‘keeper once more after he received a perfect through-ball in stride and put it on target. Johnson made another world-class save and again proved the sole reason why the game wasn’t tied at three by the 70th minute.
“Credit to Orlando,” Johnson said. “They put pressure on us and created chances. But we were able to sustain the attack. We were up for it.”
In the 70th minute, newly-inserted Joel Lindpere was fouled hard on the break at the top of the box. Orlando’s Yann Songo’o denied the Fire winger a scoring opportunity and was issued a straight red card. With the Lions down to ten men, the hill to climb proved insurmountable.
The dagger came in the 83rd minute, as Mike Magee lofted a goal to the back post after receiving an on-the-ground, right-to-left 30-yard pass from sub Maicon Santos. Santos provided Magee with an exquisite ball that cut through the entire Orlando defense.
4-1 Chicago and “Magic Mike” marked his seventh goal in as many contests while wearing Fire red.
Frustrated, the Lions fell apart and lost their composure after a reckless challenge by Mbengue on Chicago right back Jalil Anibaba resulted in a second red card for the Lions, who went down to nine men.
The icing on the Fire’s victory cake was marked by a Joel Lindpere goal in the 90th minute. The Estonian took a long, floating chip from Dilly Duka right up the middle and past Gallardo.
“I’m really disappointed with the result,” said Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath. “I thought five to one score line flattered them. I thought between both boxes we played the best football tonight.”
Heath continued, “They took chances when they created them and we gave away two or three poor goals. When I look and reflect on the game, I think I will be disappointed with both final thirds of the field. The middle, I thought we played some good stuff.”
With the 5-1 result, the Fire extended its unbeaten streak to eight across all competitions, including wins in its last three. Chicago will host MLS Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers D.C. United at Toyota Park in a semifinal battle on August 7th, a prime opportunity for the club to earn its shot at a record-tying fifth U.S. Open Cup crown.
“At this point you’re going to play good teams,” said Fire head coach Frank Klopas. “The good thing is that we’re at home. [D.C. United] is the matchup we wanted. At this point in the semifinals though, there are no easy games.”
“We got the job done,” said Sean Johnson. “Now we’re on to the semifinals and one step closer to winning the cup.”