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Lagging in league, Fire see importance of USOC semi

Logan Pause, Chicago Fire

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — It’s clear that the US Open Cup means a little bit more to the Chicago Fire than to many other MLS teams.

Unlike some of their league rivals, Chicago have always taken the tournament seriously, consistently fielding strong lineups while some other clubs rest their bigger players. The Fire’s earnest approach has paid off over the years: They’re the most successful team in the Open Cup’s modern era, winning the title in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006 and making the final in 2004.

After a couple of disappointing tournament showings — Chicago were bounced by lower-division teams in the Round of 16 in each of the last two years — the self-styled “Kings of the Cup” are back to their old ways this season, playing their first-team and advancing to Tuesday’s semifinal against the USL-Pro Richmond Kickers at Toyota Park (8:30 pm ET, streamed LIVE online).

“It’s been something that from Day 1 this club has put a lot of stock in and I’ve been grateful and blessed to be a part of that,” said Fire captain Logan Pause, who won the Open Cup in 2003 and '06, the last time the club won a trophy of any kind. “It’s a fantastic tournament to play in. I’ve been there twice and holding up that trophy; it’s such a wonderful feeling, a big sense of accomplishment.”

Happy memories of 2006 still linger for Pause and teammate Gonzalo Segares, the only two Fire players left from that Open Cup-winning squad. The team had a dominant run through the tournament that year, beating Kansas City, DC and LA by multiple goals en route to the title.

“It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a trophy,” Segares said. “I was here in 2006 and it was definitely a very special occasion. We always take the Open Cup seriously and we’re going to come out on Tuesday and do our best to get a win. It’s pretty big.”

Chicago’s disappointing league campaign only makes Tuesday’s semifinal bigger. The club stands at 4-7-15 record, five points behind New York for the final Wild Card playoff spot with just eight games to go.

Regardless of whether or not they make the postseason, an Open Cup crown could validate the changes coach Frank Klopas has instituted and the work the player have put in to improve. Which just makes Tuesday’ semifinal that much more important.

“We know the implications,” Pause said. “With the year that we’ve had maybe it’s magnified a little more. It’s a semifinal played at home. We have a chance to go to a final. It’s a huge game.”

Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at sam.h.stejskal@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.