The Fire were at times sloppy, occasionally looked disinterested, and ultimately like the losing side Tuesday night, as they fell to USL-2 side Charleston Battery in penalty kicks (3-0) after 120 minutes of scoreless action in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Toyota Park.
Charleston midfielder Ian Fuller sealed the victory for the Battery, beating Fire keeper Sean Johnson to the left with his spot kick.
Forward Lamar Neagle and defender Mike Zaher also converted their penalties for the Battery, who ended the shootout after three rounds when Chicago’s Brian McBride, Krzysztof Krol and Wilman Conde failed to convert their PK’s.
“It was really frustrating,” said Fire winger Patrick Nyarko. “I think we tried our best, I think we created a lot of opportunities. But we couldn’t finish them off and PK’s are wide open, anyone can win, and unluckily [we lost].”
Head Coach Carlos de los Cobos made seven changes to the lineup he used in Sunday’s 1-0 win over the New England Revolution. New faces on the field included Johnson; defendersSteven Kinney, Deris Umanzor and Kwame Watson Siriboe; midfielders Peter Lowry and Corben Bone; and forward Stefan Dimitrov. The holdovers from Sunday’s starting XI were Marco Pappa, Logan Pause, Mike Banner and Krol.
“My intentions in [this match] were to see other players,” De los Cobos said. “We played Sunday in Boston against New England and that was a very, very [quick turnaround].”
Despite being full of fresh legs, the Fire’s starters were unable to crack the Battery’s shell in the first half, registering no chances of note in the opening 45. Charleston, on the other hand, almost went ahead in the 5th minute, when midfielder Stephen Armstrong chipped a ball from the edge of the box and hit the post.
Things picked up after halftime, as the insertions of Wilman Conde for Pause in the defensive midfield and Nyarko for Banner on the wing early on in the second half had a positive effect on the Fire’s play.
Chicago, however, were still unable to break Charleston down, struggling to create any clear-cut opportunities against a side who were all too willing to sit back and defend.
“These games are the hardest ones to play in,” Nyarko said. “These teams come in with nothing to lose and just pack it in and try to frustrate you. They hope [to] get a goal and defend it or take it to PK’s, and they did.”
In the 69th minute, Dimitrov tried his hand at a bicycle kick on a crossed ball, but Charleston goalkeeper Tim Melia made the save.
McBride came on for midfielder Lowry at the start of extra time, but not even his introduction could inspire a Chicago goal. The team did create opportunities in the two 15-minute overtime periods, but again, could not convert.
Despite the disappointing result, De los Cobos wasn’t too upset with his charges after the loss.
“I think that the players make a very big effort,” he said. “I don’t have nothing to complain [about] because they try all the match to win. All the time we are attacking, but we miss some options. We weren’t effective in the last touch and I don’t like to lose the match, but I’m satisfied because the team gave 100 percent on the field.”
Now eliminated from U.S. Open Cup competition, the Fire look ahead to their tough July 3 match against Columbus at Crew Stadium.
Charleston will also face the Crew, but they will do so in next week’s USOC quarterfinal match.