Can Fire take advantage of D.C. Open Cup hangover in Friday's crucial playoff clash?
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Watching Tuesday night’s U.S. Open Cup final might have been too difficult for many Fire fans.
The Men in Red had a fantastic opportunity to take part in an MLS record seventh Cup final back in August only to be stunned with a 2-0 semifinal home at the hands of league bottom-dwellers D.C. United.
Perhaps Fire fans can take a little solace in the fact that United, a team that has won just three of their 30 MLS regular season games, completed their Cinderella run, Tuesday night, shaking the American soccer landscape with a 1-0 upset at Real Salt Lake to become winners of the 100th edition of the tournament.
According to Fire veteran and 2006 U.S. Open Cup champion Gonzalo Segares, the result was bittersweet.
“I think they beat us fair and square [in the semifinal] here,” he told Chicago-Fire.com. “It’s disappointing because we wanted to get farther and we saw ourselves playing in that final but they did a great job. They deserved to be there and it shows you anything can happen in this game.”
To put it plainly though, D.C. United’s season is now done and dusted as the side was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs sometime in September and knowingly out far before that.
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After the partying you’d assume they did Tuesday night, they have to quickly turnaround for a home match against the Fire on Friday.
The main question on everyone’s mind is how will they approach the match (and the remainder of their season) with nothing left to play for.
Will they rest the core that won them their third U.S. Open Cup trophy and give another nod to the youngsters that got beat 4-1 last week in Toronto or could Friday’s match be an Open Cup celebration for the faithful fans that have stuck by United during a doldrums type of season.
“I think you have to just assume they’re going to be confident after winning the biggest game of the year,” said Fire vice captain Jeff Larentowicz. “They have that taste for winning and feeling good again. Teams realize to feel that way you have to win games and they’ll probably want to do that again. That’s what our assumption has to be going into Friday.”
The Fire of course still have a decent shot at qualifying for the MLS Cup playoffs but after dropping crucial points in the month of September, both players admitted there’s no more room for error heading into the last month of the season.
“Because of our rough start, I feel since the middle of the season every game has been a must-win,” said Segares. “The last month is no different – it’s disappointing because we’ve had many chances to climb up the ladder but we haven’t been able to take advantage. We’re still in the hunt, we have four games left and two points behind the last playoff spot – we’re still alive and we’re going to keep fighting until the last game.”
With the Fire holding the easiest remaining Eastern Conference schedule, Larentowicz put things more bluntly for the team’s playoff chances.
“I don’t think there’s any way we can convince ourselves that not getting three points is going to be okay after this weekend.”