Four games in 10 days. Every MLS team has one or two (or three) stretches during the season where fixture congestion becomes an issue.
Tuesday night’s third round Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup away to the Michigan Bucks (LIVE STREAM 6:30pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com) is the tail-end of the first stretch for the Fire and head coach Frank Klopas admits he’s had to manage it.
“This is where we talk about the team and the depth,” Klopas told Chicago-Fire.com following training Monday at Ultimate Soccer Arenas. “We have a lot of guys from the last few games that we had to make decisions on because we don’t want to risk long-term injury. This is a short turnaround and we have some guys that are unable to go but we have to rely on the depth of the team.”
Addressing the depth that has been built in his 29-man squad, Klopas credited the early games in the MLS Reserve League for keeping players fresh and ready to go for Tuesday night’s match.
“With the play in the Reserve League this year, I think the guys that will be inserted tonight are ready. Don’t forget a lot of them won the league last year. [Assistant Coach] Leo [Percovich] did a fantastic job with that group – a lot of them don’t get a lot of minutes so the Reserve League has kept them sharp and now we need their contributions in this game.
As far as their opponents, the Fire have scouted the fourth division, Pontiac-based side. Assistant coach Mike Matkovich should be most familiar with the team after serving as head coach of the Fire PDL side from 2002-06, though the only Bucks player remaining from those years is PDL all-time leading goal scorer Kenny Uzoigwe.
Despite the short turnaround, the Fire have been able to familiarize themselves with Tuesday’s opposition.
“We’ve learned as much as we possibly could in the short time since we knew we were coming here,” Klopas said. “Obviously we’ve watched them play a little bit – the players will be well-informed of their strengths and the guys that they have. We’re well aware of the success the Bucks have had at this level so we need to take them seriously.”
Much like the Fire, the Bucks have long placed a premium on qualifying and advancing in the Open Cup with the 2012 edition being their ninth participation in 17 years. Tuesday night will mark the seventh time they’ve faced an MLS team in the competition.
With the two clubs holding a mutual respect for the competition, Klopas also made light of the special circumstances it provides to bring an MLS team to a city like Detroit, one devoid any professional soccer club.
“This is the great thing about the U.S. Open Cup. You have a draw, you get selected to go somewhere when you lose a coin toss and we respect that and go because we’re trying to promote the sport of soccer and also what this tournament is about. We’ve all been there as players and for us, even though we’re on the road, it’s the opportunity to promote the Fire in a nearby city and bring MLS-level soccer to an area where youth soccer at the grassroots level is huge.”