|Matchup||Chicago Fire (2-5-5, 11 pts.) vs. Indy Eleven (4-0-6 in NASL, 18 pts.)|
|Date||Wednesday, June 15 • 7:30 p.m. CT|
|Location||Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.|
|Fire Field Vision Powered by NovaCare||Watch Now|
More than two weeks since the club’s last competitive match, the Chicago Fire are set to return to action and make their entrance into the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Wednesday night when they host North American Soccer League (NASL) side Indy Eleven. Kickoff at Toyota Park is set for 7:30 p.m. CT with a live video stream available on Chicago-Fire.com, with Dan Kelly and Frank Klopas on the call.
The Fire returned to training last Monday after a week-long hiatus in accordance with the MLS break for Copa America Centenario. Focus began with a fitness assessment before shifting gears into preparation for a return to competitive play.
“Everyone has looked sharp fitness-wise with getting touches on the ball and making sure that when Wednesday comes we’re sharp and ready to go,” Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “I don’t think we can look back and look for any excuses. It’s time to get going again.”
The Fire rank as one of only two MLS sides to have claimed four U.S. Open Cup trophies, raising the historic silverware in the club’s inaugural 1998 season and again in 2000, 2003 and 2006. A year ago, Chicago advanced to the tournament’s semifinals for the 11th time in club history and for the third straight season, along the way improving to 39-13-4 all-time in Open Cup competition. The Fire are a stellar 26-1-1 all-time in matches played in the state of Illinois.
This year's tournament began with 91 teams and has been whittled to 32, welcoming in the 17 U.S.-based MLS clubs for the Fourth Round.
With a large number of new faces on the 2016 Fire roster, the historical context of the U.S. Open Cup tournament has been an emphasis in the team’s build up to Wednesday night’s match. Assistant coach and Fire all-time U.S. Open Cup appearance leader Logan Pause spoke pointedly to the team about his experiences in the tournament and the thrill of lifting the trophy in 2003 and again in 2006.
“He gave a speech to our guys where he involved all the rest of the guys who played and won,” Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said. “Michael Harrington here in MLS (2012 with Sporting KC) and Johan Kappelhof who won with Groningen the Cup competition in Holland. There was very, very good feedback from the locker room, from the group, and Logan is the best guy to talk about this competition and explain how important it is for the history of our club and also for our fans.”
With that in mind, Paunovic on Monday expressed a desire to devote every available resource to Wednesday and future U.S. Open Cup matches. The Fire will be without midfielders John Goossens and Collin Fernandez, both still recovering from injury, while forward Michael de Leeuw awaits the July 4 window for his playing eligibility and striker Gilberto remains unavailable for selection. Otherwise, Paunovic has a full choice of players from which to field his lineup.
"This kind of competition gives us the opportunity to manage and have more players involved in competition," Paunovic told reporters. "The level is very good, which is also why we want to win every single game, so we can keep the competitiveness in the team and competitiveness for each spot. As I've said many times before, that's very important for us. What we are going to do for sure is we will play with the best possible team in order to win. There will be some changes, but we believe that all of those changes will be very competitive and helpful to win the game."
WEDNESDAY'S OPPONENT: INDY ELEVEN
• Indy Eleven, which debuted in NASL in the spring of 2014, will arrive in Bridgeview for its first competitive match against the Fire riding high after clinching a first-place finish in the NASL spring season thanks to an unbeaten 4-0-6 mark. The spring championship, which Indy Eleven claimed thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker with the New York Cosmos, provides the club an automatic berth in The Championship, the NASL’s four-team postseason tournament in November.
• Head coach Tim Hankinson also guided his side to a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Louisville City FC in the U.S. Open Cup Third Round, securing a place in tonight’s match. Éamon Zayed, who leads the club with six goals this spring, provided the game-winning goal to help Indy Eleven avenge an Open Cup loss to the Louisville-based club last season.
• Indy Eleven’s roster features two names familiar to Chicago Fire supporters in veteran goalkeeper Jon Busch (10 starts in 2016) and defender Lovel Palmer (seven starts). Busch made 90 appearances in two stints for the Men In Red while Palmer appeared in 56 matches during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Marco Franco, a 2014 first-round SuperDraft pick of the Fire, also now calls Indy home.
"We know that they have a lot of experienced guys who’ve played in MLS,” Paunovic said of Wednesday night’s opponent. “They're doing very good and their performance in NASL is great. We know that we are going to have a tough game but also we give a lot of importance to this competition. We want to win. It's going to be a hard game for us but we expect that our fans will give us the support in that game.”