Chicago Fire: Seattle Sounders FC
It was only a matter of time before the Sounders would strike, and Fredy Montero provided the winner in the 77th minute to lead Seattle to a 2-0 win over the Fire in front of an Open Cup-record crowd of 35,615 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
"I just think we never got [in] rhythm," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "We had a little bit of a momentum change in the first half, then it just seemed that we didn't get that back. And our frontrunners didn't seem to work well off each other."
Osvaldo Alonso added a goal five minutes into second-half stoppage time as Seattle won its third straight Open Cup.
Chicago fell to 4-2 in Open Cup finals, also dropping the 2004 title match to the Kansas City Wizards, while winning the 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006 Open Cups.
The Sounders were the clear-cut attacking force for most of Tuesday's match, and Chicago was lucky on a couple of occasions to maintain the scoreless stalemate. Montero struck the left post in first-half stoppage time. Then in the 53rd minute, Mike Fucito flicked the ball over Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson but hit the right post.
Montero finally broke through in the 77th when he scored off of a rebound. On a set piece, Seattle's Jeff Parke had a header that was saved by Johnson. But Montero was able to clean up for the goal.
Alonso added an exclamation point with his late tally, dribbling past Fire midfielder Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, a late-arriving Patrick Nyarko and Johnson to place the ball into the net for the 2-0 lead.
Chicago did not create a great deal of chances, but there were some moments where the Fire could have created some offensive damage. In the 39th minute, Marco Pappa's strike deflected off of Fire forward Dominic Oduro, but Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller dove to his left to make the save.
In the 90th minute the Fire had a chance for an equalizer when Fire defender Cory Gibbs headed the ball forward and Oduro's header almost went over Keller's glove. But Oduro was in an offside position anyway.
Johnson had six saves for the Fire and Keller had four for the Sounders.
Analysis: Seattle was by far the better team on the pitch, and there is no disputing it. The Fire could only withstand the Sounders' barrage of attacks for so long.
One element that hurt the Fire was the lack of time they got out of midfielder Sebastian Grazzini, (hamstring). According to the Fire, Grazzini said that he could only go for about 10 minutes. That appears to explain why the Fire waited until the 84th minute to get him in there. But by that point, Montero already did the damage. Chicago minimally needed a healthy 45-minute effort from Grazzini to have a chance against the Sounders.
Defensively, the Fire were shaky. Center back Josip Mikulic was the weak link among the Fire's back line. To make matters worse, Mikulic cramped up once again and rookie Jalil Anibaba was brought in at the 61st minute. Anibaba should have started the match.
Overall, it was a commendable Open Cup run for the Fire, and realistically this was all Chicago had left to play for this year. The MLS playoffs are a long shot, especially following the New York Red Bulls' 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy earlier Tuesday.
How it happened: The Sounders' Fredy Montero tallied the game-winner in the 77th minute as he scored off of a rebound. Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson had the initial save on Jeff Parke's header, but Montero was there to clean up. Then for good measure, Osvaldo Alonso added a goal five minutes into stoppage time, zipping past the Fire's Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause and Patrick Nyarko, past Johnson and placing the ball into the net. Seattle was the clear offensive force all game as Montero hit the left post in first-half stoppage time and the Sounders' Mike Fucito hit the right post in the 53rd. The Fire's closest scoring opportunity came in the 39th minute when Marco Pappa took a deep strike that deflected off of Chicago forward Dominic Oduro, but Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller dove to his left for the save.
What it means: The Sounders won their third straight Open Cup title after winning in 2009 over D.C. United and the Columbus Crew in 2010. The Fire moved to 4-2 in Open Cup finals. Chicago lost the 2004 final to the Kansas City Wizards, while winning the 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006 Open Cups.
Outside the box: As expected, the Seattle faithful and some folks traveling from Chicago packed in a U.S. Open Cup record crowd of 35,615 at CenturyLink Field.
Up next: The Fire resume MLS play when they host FC Dallas for the second leg of the Brimstone Cup at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12, at Toyota Park.
Klopas capped off the Fire's inaugural 1998 MLS season with the game-winning goal during Chicago's Open Cup win over the Columbus Crew.
Now Klopas will be on the sidelines, where Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid on Monday made a ringing endorsement, saying that "Frank has to have a conversation with his boss, his technical director, who I think is also named Frank, and get that 'interim' removed from his title."
Klopas' '98 game-winner against the Crew was a banner moment in a banner season. But if the 2011 Fire manage to unseat Seattle in front of its home faithful of 30,000-plus, Klopas said that as a coach it would carry more enjoyment than the '98 Open Cup team.
"If we were to win this, I think the feeling would be different," Klopas said. "It would probably be better to be able to do it also from this side because I know what these players go through every day, their commitment, and the focus. And I think it would be a great feeling to be on this side. It would be a better moment than doing it as a player. It's hard to say. I know it would be different for me. I would enjoy it more."
With the Sounders and Fire both winning this tournament during their MLS expansion seasons (Seattle in 2009), clearly Klopas and Schmid have put plenty of stock into the Open Cup. The Fire and Sounders have six Open Cup titles between them entering Tuesday's game.
"We've been an MLS team that has won it more than any other -- four times," Klopas said. "So we are very much looking forward to playing against a very good team, in an atmosphere that is second to none, other than Chicago, I would say, for me. The players are looking forward to the match. I'm looking forward to the match. The atmosphere is going to be fantastic."
"I'm a big fan of history and tradition, and this is a competition that has history and tradition within U.S. Soccer," Schmid said. "It's a competition that I, myself, have been able to play in years and years ago. I know my friends in L.A. who played for a club there called Maccabi AC, who ended up winning like five U.S. Open Cups."
Seattle's 2009 run both in the Open Cup and during the regular season certainly brought back the talk of the Fire's '98 season because no other MLS expansion team had been able to make such a strong early statement.
Now the Sounders have a chance at a third crown after beating D.C. United in '09 and the Crew last year.
"I think as an expansion team, as a young club in MLS, winning the first two Open Cups were tremendous in terms of our club's recognition, and in terms of our fans, and in terms of the confidence of our team and our players, to realize that they can win a competition and that they can get through it. Our philosophy is, even though there are other 'fish to fry,' if you're not going to try and win it, let's not enter it."
From the Fire's standpoint, their season has dual importance once again now that they are hanging around the outskirts of the playoff picture.
Chicago is playing in its third game in a week, coming off a 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, preceded by a 3-0 road win over Real Salt Lake last Wednesday.
One person the Fire might be getting back is midfielder Sebastian Grazzini, who missed both of those matches with a hamstring injury.
"If he's OK [Tuesday morning], I think he'll be available on the 18-man roster," Klopas said of Grazzini. "But we just have to see how he reacts to [Monday night's] session. We pushed him [Sunday] a little bit with our fitness coach. ... With a hamstring, you never know until you actually go out there and do some kind of fitness test and some sprinting."
The Fire won during their 1998 MLS expansion season, as did the Sounders during their 2009 MLS expansion campaign.
No matter which team wins Tuesday, the Fire and Sounders will have a combined seven titles between them over the past 14 years. Here is a rundown of each of their previous Open Cup titles:
1998: Chicago Fire 2, Columbus Crew 1 (OT): Five days after defeating D.C. United to win the MLS Cup in their inaugural season, the Fire completed the "double" by topping Columbus in the Open Cup final on Oct. 30 at Soldier Field. Frank Klopas tallied the game-winning golden goal in the 99th minute, redirecting Ante Razov's initial shot with a header. Jerzy Podbrozny gave the Fire a 1-0 lead in the 45th minute with a penalty kick, shortly after Josh Wolff was tripped up in the box by the Crew's Juergen Sommer.
2000: Chicago Fire 2, Miami Fusion 1: The Fire had lost the MLS Cup to the Kansas City Wizards six days earlier, but there was some consolation in topping Miami on Oct. 21 at Soldier Field. An own goal from the Fusion's Tyrone Marshall in the 88th minute off of a DaMarcus Beasley cross proved to be the deciding factor to give Chicago a 2-0 lead. Miami's Welton cut into the lead in stoppage time, but the Fusion ran out of time. Hristo Stoitchkov had a 44th-minute goal for the Fire as Ante Razov beat Miami goalkeeper Nick Rimando and got the ball to Stoitchkov for the easy goal.
2003: Chicago Fire 1, N.Y./N.J MetroStars 0: Forward Damani Ralph provided the lone goal as the Fire topped the MetroStars in front of only 5,183 on Oct. 15 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Ralph scored in the 68th minute, with Evan Whitfield providing the assist. Chicago became the first MLS team to earn an Open Cup win on the road.
2006: Chicago Fire 3, Los Angeles Galaxy 1: The Fire's Nate Jaqua and Andy Herron scored goals in the 10th and 16th minutes, respectively, as Chicago never looked back during its win on Sept. 27 at Toyota Park. The Galaxy was attempting to defend its crown from a year before against FC Dallas. L.A.'s Alan Gordon cut Chicago's lead to 2-1 in the 51st minute, but Thiago's 88th-minute goal sealed the deal for the Fire.
2009: Seattle Sounders 2, D.C. United 1: Roger Levesque's 86th-minute tally proved to be the difference as Seattle held on for the Open Cup title at RFK Stadium. But the big story came shortly after Fredy Montero's 67th-minute goal that gave Seattle the 1-0 lead. Shortly after the score, United goalkeeper Josh Wicks stomped on Montero and was issued a red card. He was issued a five-game Open Cup ban for his actions. The defending champion United did manage to cut into the Sounders' lead in the 89th minute with a Clyde Simms goal, but D.C.'s late stoppage-time attempts came up empty.
2010: Seattle Sounders 2, Columbus Crew 1: The Sounders' Sanna Nyassi netted the game-tying (38th minute) and go-ahead (66th minute) goals to lift Seattle to its second straight championship in front of an Open Cup-record crowd of 31,311 on Oct. 5 at Qwest Field. The Crew's Kevin Burns managed to give Columbus a lead in the 24th minute despite Seattle dictating most of the early chances.
With the draw, the Fire set a team record with a 10-game winless streak. During the stretch, the Fire are 0-4-6, and they are now 1-4-7 overall during the season.
"We didn't get the win, but I felt there were a lot of positives going away from this game," Klopas said.
One positive was the play of midfielder Daniel Paladini. He had a strong match and tested Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller in the 27th minute. Paladini's strike from about 25 yards out was destined for the upper left corner of the goal, but Keller stretched out to his right to make the save and maintain the scoreless affair for Seattle (5-4-6).
"[Fire captain] Logan [Pause] said he saw me celebrating. I kind of was," Paladini said. "But I saw [Keller's] hands go up. It was a great save."
Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson recorded all three of his saves in the first half as the Chicago defense posted its second shutout of the season.
The bulk of both teams' scoring chances came in the first half. Chicago tested Keller early, as he was forced to make four of his game-high five saves in the opening 45 minutes.
The Fire's Diego Chaves had a crisp strike in the 12th minute that went directly to Keller, and in the 31st, Keller saved another Chaves attempt and was able to hang onto the rebound when the Fire's Cristian Nazarit rushed in.
Defensively, the Fire held Seattle in check. Other than the first 10 minutes of the match -- where Seattle's Lamar Neagle had strong scoring chances in the sixth and ninth minutes -- Chicago's defense limited the Sounders' offense.
"I thought we set the tone and we created the better chances than they did," said midfielder Patrick Nyarko, who entered the match in the second half. "We gave up nothing in the back. Everyone was scrambling. Everyone was covering for each other. I personally think it was our best game this season."
Both teams' offenses were limited in the final third throughout the second half. Chicago had one shot on goal and Seattle did not even record a shot on goal in the final 45 minutes.
"I think we had an opportunity to be a little more simple and connect passes," Klopas said. "I think we weren't as sharp doing that -- maybe the final pass, or the outlet pass out wide. I think we had moments in transition."
Analysis: The Fire still have plenty of kinks to work out, but there were enough positives out of this match to lean on moving forward.
The first half was a promising start as Paladini and Corben Bone actually compensated well for the absence of Guatemalan international Marco Pappa, who is away for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Paladini was aggressive and he covered a bunch of ground on both ends of the pitch. Bone had some creative moments, though he was less active in the second half and Klopas properly subbed him out.
Klopas' in-game management during his debut was valid. Bone's and Cristian Nazarit's activity lessened during the second half, and Klopas tried to maintain some attack against the Sounders' defense.
The winless cloud continues to linger, however, as Chicago did not gain any ground on Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia.
The Fire are 1-4-6 and have tied a franchise-worst nine-game winless streak (0-4-5). Chicago attempts to end the ongoing skid when it hosts Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday at Toyota Park.
"Everybody's definitely wanting to get back on track," said Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who returned to the starting role last week for the first time since April 14. "We're always optimistic that we can progress toward getting to the playoffs. The reality is we're 1-4-6, so we've got to get out of this rut."
The Sounders (5-4-5) are coming off of one of their biggest victories, a 2-1 decision over Real Salt Lake, ending Salt Lake's dominant 29-game home winning streak at Rio Tinto Stadium. Lamar Neagle tallied the game-winner for his first MLS goal.
Seattle also has been in the driver's seat throughout its all-time series against the Fire since joining MLS in 2009. The Sounders are 3-0-2 against the Fire, defeating Chicago twice last season and posting a 2-1 victory over Chicago this year on April 9 at Qwest Field.
The April 9 match marked the start of the Fire's current nine-game winless stretch and was the team's first loss of the 2011 season. Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller was the difference maker with several clutch saves in the second half to preserve the one-goal advantage for Seattle.
The Fire have a jam-packed June schedule, and they start the month without midfielder Marco Pappa, who is away with the Guatemalan national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Pappa is tied for the team lead with four goals.
"Marco's a very talented and important player," Klopas said. "But I believe in the other players to step in and perform because it's all about the team. When you lose one guy and you bring in someone else, it's all about the ideas and how we want to play. It's not one guy taking the ball. How we attack and defend, it puts more emphasis on the group."
There is curiosity as to how things will be different under the Klopas regime. Clearly the team did not get the game-time results under De los Cobos, and Klopas said that he will "fine tune" things in the Fire's game plan. Klopas' leadership of the team will be viewed under a microscope since the majority of the squad was assembled with him in the technical director role.
From a personnel standpoint, the Fire already made one move Friday by loaning second-year defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe to FC Tampa Bay of the second-division North American Soccer League. Watson-Siriboe had not seen a single match this season after playing in 10 matches (seven starts) during his 2010 rookie campaign.
"Sending Kwame to FC Tampa Bay for the remainder of the 2011 season allows for Kwame to play games and continue to develop as a defender," Klopas said.
The weak performances from the bulk of the Eastern Conference bring some element of optimism from the Fire's standpoint. Chicago enters the weekend second-to-last in the East and 11 points behind the first-place Philadelphia Union. Philadelphia and D.C. United are the only two East teams that have posted two victories in their past five matches.
"I guess there's always time until you're mathematically out," Fire captain and defensive midfielder Logan Pause said. "If we continue to say we've got time, we'll wake up and it'll be like, 'oh man, I wish we had more time.' We've got work to do."
The Fire (1-1-1) suffered their first loss of the season, while the Sounders (1-2-2) garnered their first win. Chicago falls to 0-3-2 all-time against Seattle.
Trailing by a goal in the second half, the Fire had three big scoring chances in a nine-minute stretch from the 58th to 66th minutes, but Keller posted three of his game-high four saves to maintain Seattle's lead.
In the 58th, Fire midfielder Marco Pappa took a free kick that hit the Sounders' wall and was not cleared properly. Chicago forward Diego Chaves, who had scored his team-leading third goal earlier in the match, took a strike toward the near right post. But Keller dove to his left and got his left glove on the ball.
In the 61st, Gaston Puerari created an opening, but Keller came through with a foot save. And in the 66th, Pappa struck the ball with his cleats and tried to direct the ball to the right side of the frame, but Keller reacted quickly and pounced on the ball.
"He was clearly the man of the match and had great interventions," Chaves said. "He was the key for Seattle's victory."
The second half was a turnaround from the offense-heavy start to Saturday's game as both teams scored a goal in the first 10 minutes.
Seattle's O'Brian White headed the ball for a goal in the 7th minute to give the Sounders a 1-0 lead. Mauro Rosales provided a strong cross from the right side, and White battled in between Fire defenders Dasan Robinson and Jalil Anibaba, heading the ball inside the near right post for the early tally.
The Fire wasted no time getting right back into the match. Chaves became the first Fire player to score a goal in his first three league games. Patrick Nyarko had a crisp send from the right edge of the box, finding Chaves who put a simple touch to the inside of the left post.
Seattle had a roughly 2-to-1 edge in possession during the first half, and the Sounders capitalized on Steve Zakuani's speed down the left side against Anibaba to take a 2-1 lead in the 25th minute. White assisted on the play.
The Sounders had nearly taken the lead a couple minutes earlier in the 23rd, when Erik Friberg had an open goal in front of him but struck the ball over the crossbar. Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson made a risky decision to leave his line as Rosales easily beat Johnson to the ball and headed it toward Friberg.
Just before halftime, the Fire missed an opportunity to even things up in the 44th minute as Puerari headed the ball over the crossbar. The end result was not to Chicago's liking, but the setup was flawless as Gonzalo Segares might a nice run down the left side, overlapping with Pappa. Segares crossed the ball in, but Puerari could not put the ball on frame.
"My players had a very good effort, and we had some really good moments on the pitch," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "We had two mistakes and they took advantage."
Analysis: The Fire picked up the attack in the second half and created some regular chances. Keller just happened to play at the top of his game, and it was only a matter of time before the Sounders broke into the win column.
Robinson started in place of Josip Mikulic at center back. Mikulic, who injured his quad, did not travel with the team and his presence was missed. Robinson had a mixed performance that included some good clearances and aggressive play. But he also could not disrupt Seattle's game-winning goal. Robinson also looked dramatically slower than the Sounders' attacking group, which did not include striker Fredy Montero, who missed the match because of recent wrist surgery.
The Fire did not play a compact game, and that allowed for Seattle to dominate in possession early, create some chances and work the ball at various angles. In retrospect, the Sounders probably should have built a bigger lead, especially with Friberg's missed chance midway into the first half.
Despite playing in a hostile environment, the Fire stayed aggressive and attempted to salvage a point on the road. Puerari continues to maintain a high level of energy and Chaves already has become a regular goal-scorer.
You have to give credit where credit is due -- the Seattle goalkeeping was the clear-cut difference over the Fire. At 41 years old and battling through his final season, Keller can still piece together a world-class performance.
The Fire face Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday at the notoriously decibel-shaking Qwest Field, then stay on the west coast to take on the expansion Portland Timbers next Thursday. Chicago is off to a 1-0-1 start to the season, while Seattle is itching for its first victory with a 0-2-2 record.
"They're still looking for their first win, so our motivations are different," Fire midfielder and defender Gonzalo Segares said. "We've got to take advantage and go over there and have two good games and get some points."
Chicago has to feel confident coming off a 2-1 victory over 2010 MLS champion Colorado Rapids on March 30 in its Lamar Hunt U.S. Open qualifier match, preceded by a 3-2 home opener win against Sporting Kansas City on March 26.
The Fire travel into the largest MLS fan base in Seattle, where the Sounders bring in crowds in excess of 36,000 per game. Chicago also has never won against Seattle, posting a 0-2-2 record since the Sounders' MLS debut in 2009.
"This will be one of the first real tests for this team," Segares said. "We've definitely got to be prepared for that. Mentally and physically, we've got to be ready."
The Fire are without central defender Josip Mikulic, who injured his quad and missed Chicago's match against the Rapids last week. Yamith Cuesta started against Colorado and was later subbed out by Dasan Robinson about 15 minutes into the second half. Both players figure to be the most likely fill-in option for Mikulic.
It is unknown if Sounders striker Fredy Montero is good to go for this match. Montero missed Seattle's 2-2 draw against the San Jose Earthquakes last Saturday, undergoing wrist surgery earlier that week. Goals have been hard to come by for the Sounders in the early going, with the team netting only three tallies in its four matches, including two shutout losses to open its season.
Chicago, on the other hand, has seen its Uruguayan forward duo of Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari net three of the team's four goals in two league matches.
The Sounders defeated the Fire both times last season, highlighted by Montero's two-goal effort at Qwest to overcome a first-half deficit en route to a 2-1 Seattle win on Aug. 28.
The two sides met up during the preseason in Bradenton, Fla. Chicago and Seattle played through a scoreless 90 minutes, but then tacked on an extra 30 minutes of work. Seattle eventually earned a 1-0 win with a 120th-minute goal from trialist Servando Carrasco.