BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire looked to the lessons learned in recent defeats at Colorado and Philadelphia as they advanced to the US Open Cup quarterfinals with a resolute 2-1 win over rivals Columbus Crew SC on Tuesday.
Showing added resolve following the late 2-1 loss at the Rapids and a 4-3 reversal at the Union, the Fire were not prepared to let this game pass them by. Having taken an impressive two-goal lead by the 30th minute thanks to Man of the Match David Accam, coach Veljko Paunovic rejigged his side to a more defensive formation in an attempt to close out the game with more than 20 minutes to go.
And despite a penalty kick from Ethan Finlay that halved the deficit with 11 minutes to go, a resilient Fire backline held firm to earn the right to host the winners of Wednesday night's Round-of-16 match between Orlando City SC and the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.
“We were aware that we had a very good result at haltime, and I think that awareness and the lesson we got in the game against Philly [helped us],” Paunovic told reporters at his postgame press conference. “I can say that we learned a lot, so we were able to use that experience in order to perform better today defensively and having the result in our favor.”
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Paunovic praised the adaptability of his players, some of whom were thrust into unfamiliar positions to close out the game. Eric Gehrig and Joao Meira came in for John Goossens and Accam before the 70th minute, with right back Rodrigo Ramos moving to right midfield in a move to protect the back four.
Crew SC are still without an Open Cup victory against the Fire in six attempts, and the Fire continue their quest for a fifth Lamar Hunt Trophy.
“It’s a step forward in our quest for Open Cup and we believe that we are on a good path for that,” Paunovic added.
While the victory was built on the defensive fortitude of many, it was the individual brilliance of matchwinner Accam and string-puller Goossens who laid the foundations for victory with their vision and artistry in the final third.
Goossens' first start for the Fire since mid-April gave Paunovic some encouragement that things could improve offensively for the club as they enter the second half of the season.
“He’s calm and comfortable on the ball and he actually has a very good offensive perception of the game, so he helped the team,” Paunovic said of the Dutch midfielder. “He was the one who is looking for those spots in between the lines, to receive the ball and that’s how he helped the team.
“He was a relief for us when we were building out of the back, and in the moments when we had to win and have a progression in our buildup. He showed up and that’s very important and positive for the team.”
Shane Murray is a contributor to MLSsoccer.com