CRANDALL: I felt the soccer gods were on our side going into the half

Coming Home

Well that wasn’t what we wanted... 

From the semifinal win on August 30 vs. Richmond, we all knew Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup Final at Seattle was going to be a difficult game. Playing a championship match in front of 35,000+ fans going for the other team on the heels of a three-match, nine-day, 8,000 road trip in just over a week made things tough.

All day Monday, a number of players including captain Logan Pause, Sean Johnson, Cory Gibbs, Dominic Oduro and interim head coach Frank Klopas were inundated with media intrigue for Tuesday’s Cup Final.

The night before the match, the team held a final walk-through training session at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, WA, though I believe the turf there was perhaps a bit better than the surface that the final was played on Tuesday night.

The big question leading up the entire week was whether or not Sebastian Grazzini had recovered his fitness after pulling his right hamstring. The Argentine didn’t wholly train the team in Seattle but he was part of most exercises both days in the Pacific Northwest, giving hopes that he could play a significant role in the match…

Following the team meal back at the hotel, head coach Frank Klopas showed the team a video detailing the club’s history and run to the 2011 Open Cup Final. The players came away from the showing inspired, with Dan Gargan even tweeting about the video. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit Dan, as one Matt Chandler produced the work.

The video really made it all the Cup Final stuff truly sink in and though I wasn’t playing any part on the field, my stomach began to turn in knots with excitement afterwards. You might say I had goose bumps.

As I tweeted after meeting up with some of the earlier arrivers from Section 8 Chicago, I struggled to get to sleep Monday night. Instead, I wrote this piece that helped to calm the nerves enough to get to sleep at 4 a.m. Pacific Time. Sure it was a little “rah, rah” Fire, but I was feeling inspired and there seemed no better time... 

The morning of…

Three hours later I awoke with calls from Chicago and knew it would be a long day with little rest. Aside from the understood best part of a trip like that (being behind the scenes with the team for an important match) the next two best things both involved Section 8 Chicago.

Earlier in the afternoon, I participated in a combined All-In and Hot Mess LIVE webcast with Section 8’s Irish Steve, Chow and Pattrick Stanton from a bar in Seattle to talk the Fire’s road to the Final and preview the night’s match in front of the Fire supporters that gathered.

As I left to join up with the team for the ride to the stadium, I was sad to miss out on the Section 8 March to CenturyLink Field. The nearly 150 Fire supporters treked over a mile and a half, singing and chanting through the streets of Seattle as they made their way to the stadium.

Not realizing they were already there, I walked onto the CenturyLink pitch upon arriving and quickly ran back in the tunnel to retrieve my camera as all sections were empty except for one at the far end of the field. Two hours before kickoff, the red-clad bunch stood and sang for the Fire. I don’t feel this photo I took does them justice, but it was another awesome display of support from the Independent Supporters Association.

Making the way up to the press box, my stomach turned even more. The Shepherd’s Pie on offer upstairs didn’t help settle my stomach and as the stadium began to fill in with rave green, I stayed glued to my seat.

It pains me to say the atmosphere inside that stadium is fantastic. That, combined with an attack heavy Sounders side (even missing Mauro Rosales) made the match difficult. As it began, it became evident that the Fire would be on the back foot for most of the game. Every time the Men in Red had the ball, it seemed Seattle swarmed the player with two or three of their own. In short, they were everywhere.

Still, a number of Sounders chances were sprinkled around a few long-distance efforts from Marco Pappa, with the Guatemalan international doing well to test the outgoing Seattle keeper. On the other side of the field, Sean Johnson laid out a portfolio of work that newish U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Kilnsmann would be well advised to look at.

I felt the soccer gods were on our side going into the half having just seen Fredy Montero put a ball off the post. I was further convinced eight minutes after the break as Mike Fucito chipped Sean Johnson, only to see his effort come back off the post.

Eventually though, the tide of dead ball opportunities conceded came back to bite the Fire as Jeff Parke rose to nod down a corner kick which Johnson got to with a reaction save. Unfortunately, Montero was there on the door step to bury the rebound in the 78th minute and it seemed it would be an uphill battle just to grab an equalizer.  SIDE NOTE: Given the fact Johnson saved the header, I remain miffed as to why Parke was credited with an assist, given the result, I suppose this matters very little.

The amount of minutes Grazzini was available for seemed a game-time decision and with the team needing a goal, the Argentine attacker was brought on in the 85th, with Frank Klopas saying following the match that he said he could only go about 10.

With five minutes of stoppage time to be played, the Fire pushed for an equalizer but got caught out as Osvaldo Alonso maneuvered through the back line and around Johnson to ice the game very late.

Seeing the guys following the match, the atmosphere was what you would expect. It didn’t help to hear the other team in the locker room next to you celebrating to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”.

Solemn, the team returned to the hotel for what was a quiet dinner. Afterwards, a few of us went down to the lobby to find a large group of Fire supporters hanging around. A number of players and coaches strolled down and for the rest of the night the Fire conglomeration in Seattle commiserated in defeat together.

ISA chairman Tom Dunmore put it best Tuesday when he said, “Thanks to Section 8 Chicago for making what should have been a totally miserable night a merely miserable night. We lost, but we stuck together once again.”

Losing a game of that magnitude to a smug bunch like Seattle isn’t fun, but the camaraderie between the team and supporters that night was something special. We’d much rather have been taking sips of champagne from our fifth Open Cup but the gathering showed why the Fire community is a unique one.

Arriving back at the office this morning, I was intrigued to read Brian Straus’ column for The Sporting News that said U.S. Soccer and the league are in discussions to revamp the Open Cup bid system as well as having all 16 MLS teams enter the tournament proper rather than having to qualify.

Either way, credit to Seattle for the performance and their work over the past three years to make the Open Cup more relevant in this country. They are deserved 2011 champions but with four titles and six finals appearances, the Fire are still Kings of the Cup.

Go Fire!

Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.