Veljko Paunovic

Paunovic: “We will work hard to win against Fort Lauderdale and move forward”


Matchup Chicago Fire (MLS) vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers (NASL)
Competition Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal
Date Wednesday, July 20 • 7:30 p.m. CT
Location Bridgeview, Ill. • Toyota Park
Fire Field Vision Watch Now

As the Chicago Fire prepare to welcome the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to Toyota Park for a quarterfinal matchup in the Lamar hunt U.S. Open Cup, head coach Veljko Paunovic has his sights set on overcoming his team’s next hurdle in the competition.

On Monday, Paunovic emphasized the importance of Wednesday night’s contest (7:30 p.m., Toyota Park | TICKETS), which will see the Fire compete in the Open Cup quarterfinals for a 13th time, third-most in tournament history and second-most among MLS clubs. Chicago, already tied with Kutis SC (St. Louis) for most all-time Open Cup semifinal appearances (11), is bidding to be among the final four teams in the field for a fifth time in the last six years.

“For us, this game is a must-win game,” he said. “We all know how much we value this competition, and it becomes a priority. We will go with all our forces in this game against Fort Lauderdale, who are a team that has proven that they can win against any MLS team. They did so far in the Open Cup two times, so full respect, full power against them. We are preparing for that game as one of our priorities for the season.”

MORE: Fire vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers Match Info

The NASL side enters Wednesday’s match having bested consecutive MLS sides in the tournament. A penalty shootout victory over DC United earned them a place in the Round of 16 against Orlando City SC, whom they dispatched, 2-1, courtesy of a 120th minute game-winner from Brazilian midfielder PC.

“We are fully motivated and very optimistic about this competition,” he said. “It becomes our priority. This is how we are working. All our eyes are on this game and we want to prepare and win the game and we move forward.”

That level of motivation is sure to be matched by a Strikers side currently carrying the banner as the lone non-MLS club still in contention to raise the Cup. 

"I think they will be a strong side," said Fire striker David Accam, who has netted all three Fire goals in U.S. Open Cup action this season. "They will be really hungry to beat us and for us we take it as any other game, we're not going to disrespect them because we know they are good players. They have some experienced players as well. For us, it's a home game, and we need to do whatever we have to do to win the game."

Both sides are going after a place in the semifinals, which will mean a date on August 9 with Wednesday's winner between East Region representatives New England Revolution or Philadelphia Union. A draw will be held by U.S. Soccer on Thursday (July 21) to determine the host sites for the semifinal round as well as potential championship match locations.

Below is the list of Wednesday's quarterfinal contests:

East Philadelphia Union at New England Revolution Boston, Mass. 6:30 p.m. CT
Central Ft. Lauderdale Strikers at Chicago Fire Bridgeview, Ill. 7:30 p.m. CT
Plains FC Dallas at Houston Dynamo Houston, Texas 7:30 p.m. CT
West Seattle Sounders FC at LA Galaxy Carson, Calif. 9:30 p.m. CT

Wednesday’s match is the fourth of five in a two-week span in what has been a packed July for the Fire. Paunovic has made no secret of his team’s prioritization of this year’s Open Cup, and has taken steps to ensure that his players are rested and focused on the task at hand.

“Having this stretch, (I believe in) the importance of recovering well, of having a plan where all the guys are important and have to be engaged,” he said. “So far I think we’re doing a good job with that. The players are understanding very well their roles, each of them, so we go game-by-game. We know that we have also a plan and we share the amount of the plan that we can.”

Fire regulars David Accam, Jonathan Campbell, and Sean Johnson remained in Chicago during the team’s 3-1 defeat in Dallas over the weekend as Paunovic practiced the need for squad rotation that he’s preached. Goalkeeper Matt Lampson was given the start in net in anticipation of his resuming the responsibilities holding down the position in the U.S. Open Cup this week.

“We’ve had a plan with all the players before this stretch of games started, before even the game against Sporting Kansas City," Paunovic said. "(All of the players) know how much they’re going to participate and what’s the plan from the fitness standpoint. We have to manage the load. July is a very hard month for us.”

Wednesday night is another opportunity for the Fire to not only extend their run in the Open Cup tournament, but also a seven-match unbeaten streak at Toyota Park that dates back to mid-April. The club also has not lost at home in Open Cup competition since Aug. 7, 2013, itself an unbeaten run of seven games that has stretched Chicago's all-time home mark in Open Cup action to 27-1-2.

“At home we’ve improved a lot,” Paunovic said. “It has been since the game against Montreal that we are undefeated here, and that’s important. As we always say, we’re not happy at all with our performance on the road, but I would say it’s a matter of time when I think it will start to work for us better on the road, and we don’t give up.”

At present, however, a looming road trip to New England on Saturday doesn't resonate much with Paunovic compared to his team’s task on Wednesday night and the challenges that lie ahead.

“We will work hard to win against Fort Lauderdale," he said, "and move forward.”