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Fire Wed Aug 31 2011

Silver Lining Watch: Fire Advance to Open Cup Final

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for fire crest.jpgThe Chicago Fire capped their four-game homestand Tuesday with a 2-1 victory against the Richmond Kickers in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The win puts Chicago in the Open Cup final for an MLS-leading sixth time, where they'll face the Seattle Sounders for the chance to win their fifth title, tying them with two other clubs for most titles in Open Cup history, and the most out of all MLS clubs since their inclusion in the tournament in 1996.

Like England's FA Cup, the U.S. Open Cup is the United States' version of a national tournament, encompassing all levels of adult, organized soccer. Beginning with amateur clubs in the early spring, it advances via a knockout process all the way up the levels of professional soccer and a final in early fall. Seattle has won it the past two years since they became an MLS club, while Chicago likewise placed the same high importance on it upon their birth in 1998, going on to win it a league-best four times since then.

In front of a sparse crowd at Toyota Park, Chicago opened up on the back foot as Richmond tried to earn their third MLS scalp of the tournament after defeating Kansas City and the Columbus Crew.

But Chicago weathered the storm, and capitalized on the first big break of the match when Patrick Nyarko used his speed to get behind the defense and into the Richmond box, where he was hauled down by Kickers' defender Dave Hertel. Referee Jason Anno immediately awarded the penalty kick, and midfielder Sebastian Grazzini finished it coolly inside the right post for a 1-0 lead.

Richmond held their own from that point on, making it to halftime only down one. In the second half, however, the Fire came out better, and began to control much of the game, capping off their possession with a goal by Dominic Oduro, who proved he can shoot from space as well as running in on goal with a curler from just outside the box. Richmond found a reply quickly though, when their center back Yomby William got on the end of a ball from Michael Callahan and banged a header off the underside of the crossbar and just over the line.

But despite shifting into an attacking formation (with four men up top in the final 25 minutes), Chicago was able to keep most of the possession and break up any Richmond counters. It was only in the dying seconds of stoppage time that the visitors had their best chance, with a free kick deep down the right side, just outside the edge of Chicago's penalty box, that was cleared out for a corner kick. But as that cross was kicked out too, Anno blew his whistle for the final time, sending the remaining non-MLS squad home and the Fire into their sixth Open Cup final.

They'll play for the Cup on Oct. 4 against the Seattle Sounders, who beat FC Dallas 1-0 out west Tuesday night. The game will be played in the Pacific Northwest, where the Sounders will look to cap off a three-year unbeaten run in this tournament with their third title.

 
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