BRIDGEVIEW, Ill – Dan Gargan took note right away when he arrived in Chicago last July: The US Open Cup is important to the Chicago Fire.
The Fire were coming off of a 4-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, who came without most of their starters or their head coach, and he heard the chatter about the club’s history in the tournament.
“We were in the final four of the Open Cup, and it had a bigger buzz about it with the club with the history that they have and the success they have in this tournament,” Gargan told MLSsoccer.com. “It certainly gives it an extra bit of excitement.”
The Fire will open tournament play on Tuesday night in Pontiac, Mich., against the PDL's Michigan Bucks (7:30 pm ET, live stream on chicago-fire.com), when they’ll start a campaign to best last year’s runners-up performance.
Chicago made a charge to the Open Cup final in 2011 in the midst of a disappointing season and had a chance to bring home their fifth trophy from the tournament. They ended up dropping a 2-0 result to the three-time defending champion Sounders in front of 35,615 fans in Seattle.
“We were close to holding the cup,” forward Dominic Oduro told MLSsoccer.com. “We came away from that with determination. We’re going to take every game seriously.”
The Fire have won the US Open Cup more times than any other MLS club, but they haven’t won the tournament since 2006. Frank Klopas has spoken repeatedly in his year as Chicago head coach about the 1998 season, when he played for the Fire and the team won both the Open Cup and MLS Cup.
“There have been some special players and special teams at this club,” Klopas said, unprompted, after the Fire’s 2-1 win over Dallas last Wednesday. “I believe that then and now. It is time to write our own history and be remembered forever, like the team in ’98.”
With Klopas at the helm as interim head coach last season, the Fire coasted to the tournament final with victories over New York and two USL clubs before falling to Seattle at CenturyLink Field.
This year, the Fire have had a tough stretch leading into their tournament opener. The club had three games last week, and Tuesday’s game will be their seventh in the month of May.
“We understand that we have [played] a lot of games,” Oduro said. “When these lower-division teams come out and play MLS teams, they try to prove themselves. At the end of the day, we need to go out and perform.”
After losing to Columbus on Saturday, the club took a bus directly to Pontiac, where they’ll play at a stadium with a capacity of 5,000 fans. But after losing in the tournament final last season, Gargan thinks the Fire have all of the motivation they need.
“We need to look at this as a stepping stone to be in that place of contention where we want to be, to bring that cup home to be in the Chicago Fire’s hands once again,” Gargan said. “This might not be the glamour that is playing in front of [35,615 fans] last year in the final against Seattle, but this is certainly the tough work that gets you in those positions to play there.”