As the Chicago Fire PDL side readies for its second round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match Tuesday night, a cursory glance at the USL-Pro standings would have you believe the young, amateur side got the best matchup of U.S. Soccer’s regional draw for the round.
That’s because after eeking out a 1-0 home victory in the tournament’s first round last Tuesday against USASA side Croatian Eagles, the fourth-tier Fire PDL side hosts third division bottom dwellers Dayton Dutch Lions tonight at 6:00pm CT (Live audio on Chicago-Fire.com) on the Toyota Park Practice Field.
The prize? The right to play at Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew in round three next Tuesday.
The second-year USL-Pro club, which ironically got its start with the United Soccer Leagues in the Fire’s own PDL division in 2010, sits 0-4-3 through seven matches on the league season. In that time, they’ve scored just two goals both from a 22-year-old striker named Gibson Bardsley.
Life in lower-league American soccer can best be described as a grind. Dayton most recently fell 4-0 on Saturday away to the Harrisburg. They perhaps were tired or put a lot more emotional investment into the previous night’s match, a 1-1 draw at joint league-leaders Rochester.
It’s that result that keep’s Fire PDL head coach Mark Spooner on his toes heading into tonight.
“We watched them Friday night against Rochester and I thought they were unlucky not to come away with the three points,” he told Chicago-Fire.com Monday. “They’re professionals. We know they’ll be dangerous and we’ll try and plan accordingly. I don’t think their record speaks for the level they’re playing at right now and we’re expecting an extremely tough game.”
As Dayton will be playing its third game in five days, Spooner’s side comes into the match on a week’s rest having added a few players that are free from college. Of them, returning PDL and Academy products, midfielder Brian Ciesulka (Marquette) and defender Peter Beasley (Northwestern). Brendan King, a midfielder taken by Portland in the second round of this year’s MLS SuperDraft has also recovered from illness and is available for selection Tuesday night.
“We have some options in terms of what we can do with the team Tuesday,” Spooner said. “We’ll see if any of those guys can fit into the starting lineup. It’s nice to have those options.”
Having advanced to a third round-date with Sporting Kansas City last year, Spooner admits he’ll waive the opportunity to match the 2011 team’s finish and play another MLS team in Columbus in front of his side tonight.
“All these players want to be playing in MLS. USL-Pro is a platform that many of them want to play at as well. This is an opportunity to prove that they can play and compete at that level. Obviously as we’ll see again this weekend with the first teams, the Fire and Crew have a great rivalry, these kids know that rivalry already from the Academy and understand the opportunity to play an MLS side is something they should be chomping at the bit
• Admission to Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup match vs. Dayton is FREE
• Dayton midfielder Kyle Knotek played made 27 appearances for the Fire PDL side from 2007-09. The Geneva, Ill product has appeared in all seven matches for the Dutch Lions this season, tallying the assist on Gibson Bardsley’s 28th minute strike in the team’s 1-1 draw at Rochester on Friday.
• In a twist of fate, the Fire PDL side will open its 2012 league campaign vs. River City Rovers (Louisville) less than 24 hours after Tuesday night's Open Cup match vs. Dayton. The game will be played 3pm CT Wednesday on the Toyota Park Turf Field.
• The Fire first team will also learn its third round Open Cup fate tonight as they’ll face the winner of the Michigan Bucks (PDL)/Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL-Pro) match, being played simultaneously to the PDL game at Chartiers Valley stadium in Bridgeville, Penn.