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Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Fire top Kickers to reach Open Cup final

By Charlie Corr

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- It was not the smoothest of performances for the Chicago Fire. But the home side did its job on Tuesday in topping the USL Pro's Richmond Kickers, 2-1, in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Toyota Park.

"It was a scrappy one, but we got it done," Fire defender Jalil Anibaba said.

Sebastian Grazzini netted a first-half penalty-kick goal and Dominic Oduro tallied a second-half game-winner as Chicago advanced to its sixth Open Cup final appearance. The Fire have won the Open Cup four previous times (1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006) and were the runners-up in 2004.

"Opportunities like this, you can't let them slip away," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "It was a special moment for the team, for our fans obviously, to put ourselves in this situation now in the final, to have an opportunity to win something. We knew what was at stake."

Chicago faces Seattle Sounders FC in this year's title match. Seattle defeated FC Dallas, 1-0, in Tuesday's other semifinal, and the Sounders host the Fire for the championship on Oct. 4. Seattle won the 2009 and 2010 Open Cups and is vying for a three-peat.

The third-division Kickers came out with energy and moments of possession in the early going, but a defensive foul swung the match in the Fire's favor. Fire forward Patrick Nyarko was tripped up in the box by Richmond's David Hertel, and in the 32nd minute Grazzini capitalized with the penalty-kick goal for a 1-0 lead.

A few minutes earlier in the 28th, Nyarko fell down in the box against Henry Kalungi, but referee Jasen Anno did not feel there was enough contact to merit a penalty shot.

Oduro gave the Fire a 2-0 cushion in the 61st minute. Nyarko had the setup and Oduro did the rest to elude his defender and strike the ball toward the right side of the frame.

"I thought it was a world-class goal," Klopas said. "Just bended it up and in. Just fantastic."

But the Kickers' William Yomby responded quickly in the 68th minute as his header hit the crossbar and bounced just over the goal line to cut Chicago's lead to 2-1. Michael Callahan had the assist as the Fire defense wasn't alert on the sequence.

"They had two guys, actually, unmarked and they got the ball into the back of the net," Anibaba said. "I think we just weren't ready and we were unorganized. It was just a lack of focus on our part."

Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson made one save in the ninth minute and did not face another shot on goal during the rest of the match. Richmond goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale made three saves.

Grazzini injured his hamstring in the first half and was unable to go in the second half. Klopas substituted midfielder Baggio Husidic into the match for the final 45 minutes.

"He tweaked his hamstring, so we have to evaluate (Wednesday)," Klopas said. "Hopefully it's not too bad."

Fire midfielder Pavel Pardo, who left Saturday's game against the Colorado Rapids because of a calf strain, did not suit up for Chicago on Tuesday.

Richmond's David Bulow, who entered Tuesday scoring a tournament-leading six goals in Open Cup action, was ineligible for the match because of yellow card accumulation.

During the Fire's upcoming week and a half break from action, Chicago forward Orr Barouch will be representing Israel's U-21 squad for a match on Monday against England. Fire midfielder Marco Pappa will be playing for Guatemala when his side faces St. Vincent/Grenadines on Friday and Belize next Tuesday.