CHICAGO – For the first time in three years, a tournament that the club has won four times in its history made a return to the American soccer landscape.
The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup was off for 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, giving teams like Chicago Fire FC something else to play for this season beyond MLS success.
But for a second-straight time, the Fire found themselves on the wrong side of an upset.
Union Omaha, a franchise in USL League One, came into Soldier Field on Tuesday night and knocked the hosts out of the tournament in penalty kicks after playing to a 2-2 tie through 120 minutes of play.
Omaha would beat the Fire in penalty kicks 5-4, putting the Fire out of the US Open Cup just as it was beginning for a second-straight tournament. In 2019, the club was also knocked out in their first game by St. Louis FC.
The Fire’s wait to win the tournament now extends to 17 years since their last title came in 2006, and an early elimination made for a very unhappy Ezra Hendrickson.
“Frankly, I’m pissed off because the team that we’re trying to build here – and it doesn’t matter who’s on the pitch – I don’t think tonight we displayed Chicago Fire soccer,” said the manager. “It was just not intense enough. We didn’t play fast enough and I felt like we were too casual on the night. We warned these guys that, when you play a team like this from a lower division, they feel like they have a lot to prove.
“They’re gonna come, they’re gonna bring intensity, they’re gonna bring the effort and we have to match that. And I don’t think that we did that tonight.”
Starting a majority of their backups and younger players, the Fire were able get on the board first thanks to one veteran who had to play. Defender Rafael Czichos was pressed into duty after Carlos Terán was injured in warm-up and he scored the opening goal on a penalty kick in the 53rd minute.
But Omaha would level with a goal 15 minutes later, and the match would stretch into a 30-minute overtime session. There it was Czichos who gave the Fire the lead again in the same way as the second half as he converted a penalty kick with just about five minutes to go.
Once again, Omaha had an answer, as Alex Touche evened the game with a goal two minutes into stoppage time to force the penalty kicks. There it was the visitors who came through to knock the Fire out of the tournament after just one match.
“Sometimes, we talk about killer instinct. Killer instinct is not just about making a tackle or about kicking a guy hard. Sometimes it’s about being one-v-one with the keeper and putting that ball in the back of the net and sticking that goal away,” said Hendrickson. “We created so many chances, especially in the first half, to put this team away and we didn’t. It took us two penalty kicks in the run of play to stay in the game with this team, which it shouldn’t have been like that.
“So, I’m very disappointed with the way we showed up tonight and how we performed and that will not happen again.”