BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Having decided a close-fought U.S. Open Cup encounter with two timely, clinical finishes, there was little surprise to see two-goal hero David Accam at the center of post-game attention at Toyota Park Wednesday night.
Maintaining his form over 120 minutes despite the hot and humid conditions, the Chicago Fire striker showed his worth to the Men In Red with a mazy dribble and finish to level the match in the 111th minute of a match where a breakthrough proved difficult to find against a resilient and resolute Indy Eleven backline.
However, putting aside the disappointment of seeing a superb 23rd-minute effort come back off the bar, the Ghanaian talisman did enough to force an absorbing tie to penalties, where his thunderous effort clinched a 4-3 victory for Veljko Paunovic’s men.
“It’s great,” Accam told reporters post-game. “We need this win for our confidence, to have the fans behind us and I think going down 1-0 in extra-time is difficult, but we have strong mentality and to come back and win on PKs is huge for us.”
Paunovic also focused on the mental fortitude of his players, who managed 27 shots (8 on target) over the course of the 120 minutes, but were just nine minutes from elimination from a competition the club reveres until Accam’s timely interjection.
“I believe that for us having this tough test was actually a test of our mentality, where we knew from the very start that the most important skill to have today was mental toughness,” Paunovic said at his post-game press conference.
“And I think in the end we did well, especially when we were down, we reacted very well, a great goal by David, but also we created a lot of chances because we wanted to win,” he added. “The reaction was positive and on the other side, on the penalties, we also were very tough, the mentality was very good with the pressure.”
Accam, 25, is an integral component in the Fire’s attacking ambitions, and the team looked significantly weaker during his prolonged absence earlier this season through injury.
But with the dynamic speedster back and firing on all cylinders, Paunovic believes he can improve further and be the driving force behind a rejuvenated Fire as they approach the middle third of the season, beginning this Saturday at top-of-the-table Colorado Rapids (8 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago Plus).
“David is very important as we all know, David has already been important last season and this season, now that he is back, now that he is healthy, he performed very well,” said Paunovic, who also offered his sincere congratulations to an impressive Indy Eleven side.
“In the break that we had [Accam] also improved his overall fitness, so we are very happy to have him back and that he is performing well,” he added. “But we still know that David has more to give, to take more leadership in the locker room and we are here to help him.”