An all-important U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal looms Wednesday night as the Chicago Fire take on the Atlanta Silverbacks at Silverbacks Park in Atlanta, GA (LIVE 6:30pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com).
About the Atlanta Silverbacks…
Wednesday’s meeting is the first-ever encounter between the Chicago Fire and Atlanta Silverbacks so there’s nothing to say in the way of history here. Check.
The Silverbacks won the NASL’s Spring Championship in 2013 before losing 1-0 in the Soccer Bowl to the New York Cosmos. This Spring season, Atlanta didn’t fair quite as well, going 3-5-1 and finishing eighth in the 10-team NASL.
Wednesday night’s match will mark Atlanta’s first game since a wild 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids in the Open Cup fifth round back on June 24, a match that saw three Silverbacks players as well as head coach and Fire alum Eric Wynalda sent off after a melee at midfield.
Those red cards mean that team leading score Jaime Chavez, former Fire trialist Borfor Carr and Kwado Poku will all be unavailable for selection for Atlanta in Wednesday’s quarterfinal.
“The players that will be missing are definitely a big part of this team but at the end of the day, this is a team and we have players that need to step up,” Silverbacks forward Deon McCaulay told their official site this week. “I think those players will come in and execute the game plan well.
A glance at Atlanta’s roster won’t reveal a ton of familiar names, though they do feature former Chivas USA midfielder Blair Gavin and days ago re-signed former Fire Homegrown player Kellen Gulley, who spent 2013 on loan with the Silverbacks.
Either way, it would be wrong for the Fire to take the hosts lightly as they’ve already dispatched two MLS sides, having also beaten 2013 Open Cup finalists Real Salt Lake 2-1 in extra time back on June 14.
Another reason not to take Wednesday’s match lightly is because of the artificial turf at Silverbacks Park, a surface the Fire have not done very well with over the last five seasons.
In fact, going back to 2010, the Fire are 2-12-4 across all competitions on the fake stuff. Those two wins came on June 27, 2010, a 1-0 victory at New England (the last time the Fire won on turf in MLS) and almost exactly one year later on June 28, 2011, a 1-0 third round Open Cup win at Rochester.
On the bright side, the Fire have played to two 1-1 draws on turf this season (at Portland and Montreal), the team’s first non-loss on turf since the first game of 2012.
Need to Rotate?
Earning the team’s 10th draw on Sunday in Kansas City, Fire head coach Frank Yallop was adamant that the team needs to begin winning games in the league in order to keep in the playoff hunt. Unfortunately, Wednesday’s game is the team’s third in a week, making Saturday’s encounter at New England their fourth in 11 days.
After dealing with the brutal heat in Kansas City and what will no doubt be humid conditions in Atlanta, Yallop admitted he may need to rotate squad to make it through Saturday.
“It’s something we deal with. There may be a little bit of wear and tear, with the game Wednesday and Saturday and we’ve already had a tough game Sunday and our numbers are kind of low right now. That’s my only worry, I’m trying to rotate the squad and get guys that are fresh.
Still, Yallop recognizes the importance of the occasion Wednesday night and seems like he’ll put out a decent squad vs. the Silverbacks.
“We have a cup game on Wednesday which is very important to this club and our team and fans that we want to win. It’s a very important game. I wouldn’t throw away any games to try and get points in the league. We’re just trying to get wins so we want to win on Wednesday, we want to go to New England and try and win that game.
Amarikwa, Larentowicz Back
Two players that weren’t at his disposal on Sunday, Quincy Amarikwa and Jeff Larentowicz, will bolster the manager’s numbers Wednesday night. Amarikwa returns to the squad after serving a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation while Larentowicz missed the draw at Sporting as his wife gave birth to their first child that morning.
Both players have earned consistent starting minutes when available and will no doubt be fresher than their teammates.
Open Cup Records, Just the Facts
Overall Record: The Fire are 35-11-4 all-time in U.S. Open Cup and qualifying play
Quarterfinal Record: The Fire are 7-1-2 all-time in U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals. The team’s only loss came in a 2-1 extra time defeat to D.C. United in 2008. The side won both quarterfinal penalty shootouts in 1998 vs. the San Jose Clash and 2005 vs. the Rochester Rhinos.
Record vs. Division II: The Fire are 5-3-1 all-time vs. opponents from the second tier of the American soccer pyramid. The team’s three losses were all 1-0 defeats to the Rochester Rhinos (1999), Milwaukee Rampage (2002) and Carolina RailHawks (2007). The match vs. Carolina was the last time the Fire faced a team with Division II designation.
BONUS: Required viewing for every Chicago Fire fan on any U.S. Open Cup matchday...