Tuesday night marks the Fire’s opening foray into the 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup competition, when they travel down I-55 to take on USL Championship side Saint Louis FC at Hunter Stadium in St. Charles, Mo. (7:30 p.m. CT, ESPN+).
Get caught up on the tournament history between these two sides and more in an Open Cup edition of match storylines, pres. by NovaCare.
The Fire will play their first match in 11 days on Tuesday amid a June break in league play. Most recently, the Fire fell 2-0 on the road at Atlanta United on Saturday, June 1. Head coach Veljko Paunović’s side sit just beneath the Eastern Conference playoff line on 18 points through 16 matches played.
Saint Louis FC’s turnaround into Tuesday night is a touch tighter, having lost 2-1 to Hartford Athletic in East Hartford, CT, on Saturday night. The result sees the club in ninth place in the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference with 19 points through 11 matches played this season.
Open Cup Primer
The Fire enter the 2019 tournament in the fourth round, with 32 teams from all over the U.S. Soccer pyramid still vying for the title. The Club drew Saint Louis FC from a Central Pool – one of eight four-team regional pools - that also included FC Cincinnati and USL Championship side Louisville City FC. Should the Fire advance on Tuesday night, a draw would again determine their opponent for the tournament’s Round of 16.
"We are all focused on tomorrow’s game," Fire forward Nemanja Nikolić said. "Last year was good. In the Open Cup, we went until the semifinal. This year we want to go one step forward and to be in that final and to win. Until that, we have five difficult games. In these type of competitions, you don’t have a second chance. We just need to be focused."
Entering this year’s tournament, the Fire (45-15-6 all-time in U.S. Open Cup play) are tied with Seattle Sounders FC and Sporting Kansas City for the most U.S. Open Cup championships for an MLS club, having won in 1998, 2000, 2003, and 2006. In last year’s tournament, the Men in Red advanced to the U.S. Open Cup semifinal for the 13th time in Club history and sixth time in the last eight seasons.
Saint Louis has won its first two matches in this year’s tournament to reach this point. They defeated USL League 2 club Des Moines Menace 1-1 (3-1 on penalty kicks) in a second round contest on May 15 at Cownie Soccer Park in Des Moines, Iowa, before posting a 3-1 win over USL League 1 side Forward Madison FC in a third round game on May 29 at World Wide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton, Mo.
On Saint Louis FC
Tuesday night’s opponents are in the midst of their fifth season of existence, having began play as a USL expansion side in 2015. Saint Louis FC plays their home matches at Toyota Stadium in Fenton, Mo., but will host Tuesday’s match at Lindenwood University’s Hunter Stadium due to flooding. They’re currently led by head coach Anthony Pulis, a 34-year-old former Orlando City B head coach who spent 10 years playing in England before moving stateside in 2012.
On the field, forward Russell Cicerone and defender Sam Fink share the team’s 2019 lead in scoring with three goals apiece. Goalkeeper Jake Fenlason has kept six clean sheets so far this season, the second-highest total in the USL Championship. As a unit, Saint Louis has conceded just eight times through 11 matches played.
Tuesday’s game will mark the second all-time meeting between the Fire and Saint Louis FC in the U.S. Open Cup. The two clubs previously met in the 2017 iteration of the tournament, with the Fire capturing a 1-0 fourth round win at Saint Louis thanks to a 27th-minute Luis Solignac strike.