Cup runneth over? Fire driving for five
By Len ziehm Special to Sun-Times Media October 3, 2011 11:24PM
Chicago Fire v Houston Dynamo
Updated: November 15, 2011 12:26PM
The Fire’s late-season drive to make the MLS playoffs is still going strong, but it’ll be put briefly on hold. The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final is Tuesday night against the host Seattle Sounders, and plenty of history will be on the line.
The summerlong Open Cup has been played annually since 1914 and the Fire could become the third team to be a five-time champion, joining the Bethlehem (Pa.) Steel and Maccabi Los Angeles. If Seattle wins, they would be only the second team to win three consecutive titles, along with the New York Greek-Americans.
MLS didn’t begin play until 1996, and the Fire won its four Open Cups in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006. Frank Klopas, the club’s technical director and interim head coach, scored the winning goal in overtime in the 1998 final, his last match before retiring as a player.
The tournament is open to all professional and amateur teams affiliated with the Chicago-based U.S. Soccer Federation. The Open Cup final interrupts the Fire’s playoff run, which has featured five wins plus Saturday’s 1-1 draw in Houston in its last seven matches.
With his eye on the Open Cup, Klopas kept five usual players out of his starting 11 at Houston and was satisfied with the draw.
‘‘It was very important not to lose the game,’’ said Klopas. ‘‘A win would have been great. We tried to push the game to win, but a [standings] point is good.’’
The Fire is three points behind the New York Red Bulls, who hold the 10th and last playoff berth, with three matches remaining.
The lone Fire goal Saturday was also big for striker Dominic Oduro, who delivered against the team that dumped him one game into this season.
Oduro’s 12th goal for the Fire kept him within two of leader Dwayne De Rosario of D.C. United in the chase for MLS’ coveted Golden Boot, which goes to the year’s top goal-scorer.
‘‘That game is past,’’ Oduro said. ‘‘Now we have the U.S. Open Cup finals. That’s what we’re concentrating on.’’
The Sounders (16-6-9) have done much better than the Fire (7-8-16) in MLS play, but Seattle coach Sigi Schmid also used a makeshift lineup in a 2-1 win at New England on Saturday to insure a rested team for the Open Cup battle.
In MLS matches, the Fire lost at Seattle 2-1 on April 9 and managed a scoreless tie in the June 4 rematch at Toyota Park.