As the Chicago Fire turn their attention to Wednesday's massive U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal contest (7:30 p.m., Toyota Park | TICKETS), it’s time to get to know an opponent that may be unfamiliar to some. Here are five things to know about the Fort Lauderdale Strikers before Chicago’s first competitive meeting with the NASL club:
1. Lengthy History: The current edition of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers represents the sixth iteration of a club first established in 1977 as part of the original North American Soccer League. Like many of their peer clubs at the time, the original Strikers featured a number of international superstars, including George Best and Gerd Müller.
2. Fire Ties: Wednesday may mark the first chance for the Fire and Strikers to get together in a competitive match, but there are at least a few connections binding the clubs off the field. For one, the Strikers’ home ground, Lockhart Stadium, is the same venue where the Chicago Fire played their first-ever match in Major League Soccer, defeating the now-defunct Miami Fusion, 2-0, on March 21, 1998.
Additionally, the Strikers roster features a pair of former Chicago Fire players. Midfielder Victor Pineda was the club’s first-ever Homegrown signing back in 2010 and spent four seasons with the Fire. Brazilian forward Maicon Santos -- suspended for Wednesday’s match due to a red card in his club’s win over Orlando City SC -- spent part of the 2013 season with the Fire following MLS stops with Chivas USA, Toronto FC, FC Dallas and DC United.
Other notable names who have had stints with both the Chicago Fire and Fort Lauderdale include striker Andy Herron as well as former Fire assistant coach Daryl Shore, who served as Strikers head coach as the club was re-introduced to the NASL in 2011.
3. Unchartered Waters: This year’s edition of the Strikers made club history when it advanced beyond the U.S. Open Cup’s third round in a penalty kick shootout win over the Richmond Kickers back on June 1 -- but they were only getting started. They squeaked by D.C. United in yet another PK shootout in the fourth round before stunning Orlando City SC, 2-1, with a 120th minute goal courtesy of Brazilian midfielder PC. The Strikers -- the lone non-MLS side still in the 2016 Open Cup field -- had never before advanced beyond the tournament’s third round.
4. Who’s Who: On the pitch, the Strikers have been paced in the goal-scoring department by the aforementioned Maicon Santos (4), while Colombian forward Jose Angulo is the only other player to register multiple goals thus far in NASL play, where FTL is a combined 4-6-4 in the Spring and Fall seasons. Honduran international and World Cup veteran Ramon Nunez is the team’s leading chance creator in league competitions, while veteran goalkeeper Diego Restrepo has proven clutch for the Strikers throughout their U.S. Open Cup run.
5. And also: Of course the best-known member of the club is likely part-owner, three-time FIFA World Player of the Year and Brazilian goal-scoring great Ronaldo, who became a minority owner of the Strikers in 2014. Earlier this year, the Strikers signed midfielder Kléberson -- Ronaldo’s teammate on the 2002 FIFA World Cup-winning Brazil side -- but the 36-year-old has yet to appear in a match for his new club.