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Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Fire win shootout, advance to Open Cup

By Charlie Corr

The Chicago Fire edged the San Jose Earthquakes, 5-4, in a shootout on Tuesday at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., to advance to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Chicago overcame a 2-0 deficit, then needed 120 minutes and penalty kicks during its play-in match to assure itself a spot in the Open Cup for a 14th straight season.

Daniel Paladini's strike proved to be the shootout winner for the four-time Open Cup champion Fire. Following Paladini, the Quakes' Scott Sealy hit the frame to close out the match.

"I didn't think about it," Paladini said of his winning strike. "In a sudden-death moment like that, you just have to put it in the back of the net. It was definitely exciting, and when the opposing team misses the last shot, he made himself big out there and hit the post."

It was an uplifting moment for a team that had not experienced a win since its 3-2 home opener victory over Sporting Kansas City on March 26 and a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids in an Open Cup play-in match on March 30.

"Everybody's happy," Paladini said. "We have been unfortunate with a lot of ties lately and a lot of games that haven't gone our way when we've shown we're the better team. We've given up some silly goals, and that's a lot of mental breakdowns. It definitely feels good to get the win and get over this hump. The guys are thrilled."

Marco Pappa, Cristian Nazarit, Orr Barouch and Dominic Oduro hit their strikes in the shootout. Fire captain Logan Pause missed his attempt, but San Jose's Sam Cronin immediately missed and Chicago never trailed in the shootout.

Regulation was a different story, as San Jose built a 2-0 advantage with goals from Ellis McLoughlin and Justin Morrow. But Fire second-half substitution Barouch and defender Yamith Cuesta netted goals for Chicago to even up the score at 2-2.

The Quakes got on the board first when they took advantage of a mishap from Paladini in the 14th minute, as McCloughlin tallied the first goal of the match for a 1-0 lead. Paladini was stripped outside of the box and McCloughlin capitalized.

Chicago escaped further danger about a minute later when the Fire again lost the ball outside of the box. But Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson made a save against San Jose's Chris Wondolowski to maintain a one-goal deficit.

San Jose padded its lead in the 43rd minute when McCloughlin took an initial shot that was saved by Johnson. But Morrow followed up and notched the goal for a 2-0 halftime lead.

The Fire, needing some type of jolt, made a couple of changes at the break, substituting Barouch and Oduro for Gaston Puerari and Jalil Anibaba. Midfielder Bratislav Ristic dropped to Anibaba's right back slot.

One of the subs got Chicago back into the match as Barouch tallied a goal in the 61st minute to cut San Jose's lead to 2-1. Gonzalo Segares assisted Barouch's shot, which went into the right side of the net past Quakes goalkeeper Andrew Weber.

The Fire maintained their momentum as Cuesta tied up the match at 2-2 in the 76th minute as his header got past Weber.

Both sides played through two scoreless 15-minute overtime sessions to force a shootout. The Fire's shootout history had not been the most successful in recent years. Chicago lost to the Charleston Battery last year in penalty kicks in the Open Cup. And the year before, the Fire fell in the SuperLiga championship match to Tigres UANL and the Eastern Conference Finals to 2009 MLS champion Real Salt Lake.

The Fire can't celebrate for long as they return to MLS action to host San Jose on Saturday at Toyota Park. Chicago (1-4-5) currently is in the midst of an eight-game winless streak in league play.