|Matchup||Chicago Fire (10-3-4 in MLS, 34 pts.) vs. FC Cincinnati (5-5-5 in USL, 20 pts.)|
|Date||Wednesday, June 28 • 7:00 p.m. CT|
|Location||Cincinnati, Ohio • Nippert Stadium|
|Broadcast||ESPN and ESPN App|
On the road again.
For the first time since 2014, the Chicago Fire will play a second-consecutive match away from home in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament when their quest for cup No. 5 resumes Wednesday night in Ohio. The nationally televised Round of 16 contest (7 pm CT, ESPN) pits head coach Veljko Paunovic's men against USL side FC Cincinnati, who upended their MLS neighbors Columbus Crew SC, 1-0, in front of 30,000-plus fans at Nippert Stadium in the tournament's last round.
The Fire have remained in peak form since their entry into the 2017 edition of the tournament against Saint Louis FC back on June 14, following up that night's 1-0 victory with back-to-back wins in MLS play. Most recently, their 4-0 blanking of Orlando City SC on Saturday night pushed the club's current unbeaten streak to 10 matches in all competitions entering Wednesday night.
Despite his successes of late, Paunovic won't take the impending mid-week challenge lightly.
"We have an important stretch of games in coming weeks, so we know that we have to prepare well," he told Chicago-Fire.com on Monday. "We have to recover from our game against Orlando in the next couple of days, and then play the best possible way and win. It's very important for us, this competition, for our club and for our guys who want to win everything that is possible. Every game we play to win, and this game is not going to be different."
FC Cincinnati currently sit in sixth place in the USL’s Eastern Conference, having picked up 20 points through 15 matches played. The Ohio side also features a pair of players who were teammates with the Men In Red in defender Austin Berry and midfielder Corben Bone. Berry enjoyed memorable 2012 and 2013 campaigns in Chicago, capturing MLS Rookie of the Year honors, and has now found success with his hometown club. Bone, the 13th overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft, played 23 games in all competitions over four seasons (2010-13) in Chicago.
Paunovic opted for a lineup consisting mostly of first-team regulars in the tournament opener against Saint Louis FC, leaving only four members of his first-choice starting eleven -- defender Joao Meira, midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and David Accam, and forward Nemanja Nikolic -- at home for the contest. The Fire will be without the services of Accam (Ghana) and midfielder Dax McCarty (USA), who have been called into their respective national teams.
Also at play is the U.S. Open Cup limit of five international players permitted in a club's matchday roster of 18 players. Regardless, as the tournament stakes continue to raise, it's safe to expect a strong approach by Paunovic when lineups are announced Wednesday night.
"We have to prepare well," Paunovic said. "We expect from Cincinnati -- who is a very good team -- to push hard in this competition, but we will be ready. We will face that, and we want to win."
Awaiting the winner of Wednesday's contest will be either Atlanta United FC or the NASL's Miami FC, with the Fire due to go back on the road regardless of that game's outcome.
These sides have met on one other occasion, a 3-2 Fire preseason victory back in February. Goals from Luis Solignac, Michael de Leeuw, and Matej Dekovic were enough to stave off a late Cincinnati rally at Bradenton's IMG Academy. But Wednesday's visit to Cincinnati -- just the second Open Cup match in the state of Ohio for the Fire, following a 2004 Fourth Round win at Columbus -- promises to bring with it a different level of intensity.
"Our guys are used to playing against a lot of crowds, so it's nothing new for us," Paunovic said. "We know that the way we are playing now, the results we have, we are creating a lot of expectation. That's what we want. We want to play with a lot of crowd. We want to play in front of people that want to see good soccer, and we are ready for that. For us, there are no excuses."
2017 LAMAR HUNT U.S. OPEN CUP SCHEDULE
Round of 16
|June 27||FC Dallas (MLS) vs. Colorado Rapids (MLS)||7 p.m. CT||Toyota Stadium; Frisco, Texas|
|June 28||Houston Dynamo (MLS) vs. Sporting Kansas City (MLS)||5:30 p.m. CT||BBVA Compass Stadium; Houston, Texas|
|June 28||New England Revolution (MLS) vs. D.C. United (MLS)||7:30 p.m. ET||Jordan Field (Harvard University); Boston, Mass.|
|June 28||Miami FC (NASL) vs. Atlanta United FC (MLS)||6:30 p.m. CT||Riccardo Silva Stadium (Fla. International Univ.); Miami, Fla.|
|June 28||New York Red Bulls (MLS) vs. Philadelphia Union (MLS)||7 p.m. CT||Red Bull Arena; Harrison, N.J.|
|June 28||FC Cincinnati (USL) vs. Chicago Fire (MLS)||7 p.m. CT
ESPN2, ESPN App
|Nippert Stadium (Univ. of Cincinnati); Cincinnati, Ohio|
|June 28||San Jose Earthquakes (MLS) vs. Seattle Sounders FC (MLS)||9:30 p.m. CT||Avaya Stadium; San Jose, Calif.|
|June 28||LA Galaxy (MLS) vs. Sacramento Republic FC (USL)||9:30 p.m. CT||StubHub Center Track Stadium; Carson, Calif.|