CINCINNATI – The great thing about America’s major spring & summer soccer tournament is it give a number of clubs the chance to show off their skills against those from a higher level.
Earlier in June D.C. United faced Christos FC – a team based in a liquor store – and the needed all 90 minutes to get past them, even allowing a goal. In many ways, it’s the way for any team to make a name for themselves in the sport on the national level.
Unfortunately for the Chicago Fire, they were the victims of one of those upstart teams hoping to make their name in American soccer.
The favored MLS team – who hasn’t lost a match of any kind since April – found themselves in a fight with FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League on Wednesday night in the round of 16 in the US Open Cup. In front of 32,287 raucous fans at Nippert Stadium on the campus of the University of Cincinnati, both teams played 90 minutes of scoreless soccer and then another 30 minutes in overtime.
Then it was Mitch Hildebrandt who stepped up in the penalties for the hosts, stopping three of the Fire’s four attempts on the goal to pull off a surprising victory. For the Fire, it’s the first time they haven’t advanced to at least the semifinals of the tournament since 2012 and is their first overall loss since a defeat to the New York Red Bulls on April 29th.
“Now we have to adjust our goals. We wanted to win this competition, it’s important to the club and important for us to get trophies, and win trophies for our team, for our club, but now we have to move forward,” said Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic after the defeat. “We have to think about playoffs, that’s all that is left and now we have to understand that we have to keep working hard.
“The team is doing well but these kinds of defeats are good red flags for the team, we have to understand that we cannot relax, never in this sport can you expect that everything is done. You have to fight, you have to play, you have to understand that every game is different and you have to prepare for every opponent the best possible way you can.”
While disappointing, the Fire are still in good shape in the MLS as they sit second overall with 34 points. They’re back on the pitch at Toyota Park on Saturday to face Vancouver.