Both Chicago Fire entrants will be in action for the first time in the 2011 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as the club’s first team is in western New York to take on the third division Rochester Rhinos (USL-Pro) tonight at 6:35pm CT (LIVE STREAM at USLlive.com).
Over 1,000 miles west and an hour later, the Chicago Fire PDL, the club’s U23 amateur side is set to kickoff its third match of the tournament against Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
Chicago Fire vs. Rochester Rhinos (USL-Pro); Sahlen’s Stadium, Rochester, NY
The Fire first team takes on one of the hottest teams in USL-Pro Tuesday night when they pay a visit to the Rochester Rhinos at Sahlen’s Stadium. The USL’s National Division leaders have gone unbeaten through seven league and Open Cup matches during the month of June, racking up a 6-0-1 record in the process.
In their second round match last week, the Rhinos traded back and forth blows with the hosting Harrisburg City Islanders. Former MLS defender Quavas Kirk cleared an early second half effort from Harrisburg off the line before Rochester striker Andrew Hoxie headed an effort just over the bar in the 65thminute.
With the match still scoreless at the 81st minute, Rochester keeper Neil Kitson came up huge at the other end, making a point-blank save following a pinging free kick just outside the Rhinos penalty area, perhaps driving the Rhinos on to what would be their winning goal when Trinidadian striker Kendall Jagdeosingh was taken down in the penalty area by Harrisburg keeper Phil Tuttle in the 89thminute.
Midfielder Tony Donatelli placed his spot kick past Tuttle in the 90th minute and the Rhinos held on for their advancement to the third round.
Who to Watch: Despite being one of the better teams in USL Pro, Rochester’s attack has likely left a bit to be desired so far this season for head coach Bob Lilley. Leading goal scorer Andrew Hoxie has just three goals on the campaign, though 11 different players have hit the back of the net for the side in 2011.
Having played for the Fire PDL side last year, attacker JC Banks will be familiar to Frank Klopas and his technical staff while defenders Troy Roberts and Quavas Kirk bring MLS experience to the Rhinos.
The Fire: The team will be playing their second match in three days and third in six. Expect to see some regular starters on the bench at the beginning of the game, though the benefit for the Fire in this match is that the team’s core 18 players have received quality minutes so far this season.
One player who assuredly won’t be in Rochester is Gonzalo Segares, who was red carded in the U.S. Open Cup play-in match at San Jose on May 24. The Costa Rican international is the only player to start every competitive match for the Fire this season and will receive a much-needed rest Tuesday night.
Chicago Fire PDL vs. Sporting KC (MLS); LIVESTRONG Sporting Park; Kansas City, KS
Making their fourth appearance in the tournament over their 11-year existence, the Fire PDL dispatched another pseudo Premier Development League, turned USASA side the Iowa Menace, 1-0 behind a goal from striker Chris Estridge in West Des Moines on June 14.
Advancing to the second round, the team was up 1-0 18 minutes into their match last Tuesday at the NPSL’s Madison 56ers before the game was delayed and then postponed until the next day due to lightning. Starting with a clean slate, things didn’t look great through the first 45 minutes but the side capitalized on two goals in two minutes from Andrew Ribeiro (64’) and Thierry Zahui (66’) to earn their first-ever match against an MLS side in Kansas City Tuesday night.
The team’s advancement to the tournament’s third round equals their furthest tournament run in 2004 where they fell to the first team’s Tuesday night opponent Rochester 1-0.
“This is the dream for our guys,” said Fire PDL head coach Mark Spooner. “Our goal at the start of the season was to qualify for this tournament, we’ve made it through the first two rounds and our reward is an MLS team in a brand new stadium. We’re certainly the underdogs tonight but we’ve seen PDL teams upset the big boys in the past in this tournament, we hope to add our name to that list.”
Fire PDL Striker Chris Estridge, a converted left back from Indiana is tied for the team lead in goals at four with Florida Gulf Coast striker and Louisiana Fire Juniors product Josey Portillo. Estridge has had a knack for the big goals, scoring the one that qualified the team for the tournament in a 1-0 win at River City Rovers as well as the winner in the first round Open Cup match vs. the Iowa Menace.
At the back, Arlington Heights product David Meves has earned four league shutouts combined with two in the Open Cup. Having led Akron to the 2010 NCAA National Championship, Meves is full of big match experience and has the ability to pull off a big save. There is no doubt that if the Fire PDL pulls out an upset Tuesday night, he will be a big reason why.
Sporting enters the match riding an eight-game unbeaten streak across all competitions, going 4-0-4 since last losing 1-0 at Seattle on May 21.
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.