A two-goal effort from forward Damani Ralph helped the Chicago Fire defeat the Columbus Crew 2-1 in overtime in front of 5,426 fans at Crew Stadium in Columbus on Tuesday night in a heated fourth round match in the 2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Ralph's penalty kick midway through the second half and a header one minute into added time in the first golden goal overtime would snap the Fire's seven-game winless streak and push the "Men in Red" into the quarterfinals of the 91st edition of the country's oldest soccer competition.
"If anybody doubted the commitment of teams in the Open Cup, if they watched the game tonight it was pretty evident there were two teams that wanted to win the game and took it very seriously," said Fire head coach Dave Sarachan. "It was a hard game for the referees, the players, and the coaches. Speaking for my team, I couldn't be any prouder of them. They competed and played together as a team. In my opinion, though it is a biased one, we deserved to win this game with the way we played."
Sarachan implemented an attack-minded 3-4-3 line-up to start the match, and the forward trio of Justin Mapp, Damani Ralph and Andy Williams would cause problems early for the Crew defense. Mapp would get the game's first chance just four minutes in when he whistled a shot from 28 yards just past Crew goalkeeper Jon Busch's right post. Ralph would create danger inside the penalty area three minutes later, but a tight marking Chad Marshall forced Ralph to send his angled shot from seven yards wide left.
Mapp would start another flurry of chances that would test Busch in the 18th minute when he streaked by a pair of Crew defenders on a 40-yard run that ended with a low shot that was easily gathered by the Crew netminder. Busch, who stopped all six Fire shots on goal in the first half, also stopped subsequent chances in the next five minutes by Jaqua, Mapp and a pair of shots by Williams.
Despite controlling the run of play, it would be Columbus that would strike first on a header by midfielder Frankie Hejduk in the 27th minute. After holding possession on the right side, Columbus forward Edson Buddle sent a pass to midfielder Chris Wingert, who floated a cross toward the penalty spot. Hejduk battled Fire defender C.J. Brown for the 50-50 ball and got a head to the pass, floating it over Fire goalkeeper Henry Ring to give the Crew a 1-0 advantage.
The two sides would trade chances for the remainder of the half, with a Ralph header straight to Busch off a Mapp restart in 32nd minute and a Jaqua chance right before the halftime whistle the best opportunities for the Fire. Ring would do well to keep the score at 1-0 in the 39th minute when he went low to save Jeff Cunningham's point-blank shot from eight yards.
Both teams would struggle to create chances in the first twenty minutes of the second half, but a Duncan Oughton foul on Andy Williams inside the penalty area in the 62nd minute would lead to a penalty kick for the Fire. With Williams injured on the play, Ralph would have to wait four minutes for his opportunity from the spot, which he sent low to the left post. Busch was able to get a hand on the hard shot, but not enough to keep it out of the goal, resulting in an even match at one goal apiece.
Injuries would see Williams (left ankle sprain) and Orlando Perez (left quad contusion) leave the match for the Fire, but the players were not the only ones to suffer, as referee Ali Saheli was also forced from the game. Play would continue after a five-minute delay and assistant referee Nathan Clement's insertion into the middle.
The Fire would carry that offensive momentum into overtime, outshooting the Crew 5-0 in the first 15-minute extra period. Chicago's relentless pursuit of the game-winner would pay off late in the first overtime, as Ralph would score his second of the game to see the Fire through to the quarterfinals. In the 106th minute, Chris Armas took a free kick from 25 yards out that found a leaping Ralph, who nodded the ball into the ground from nine yards out. Busch could not recover in time to stop the ball from crossing the line just inside the right post, as the Jamaican international celebrated his second consecutive game-winner in U.S. Open Cup play.
With the win, Chicago will take on the winner of the D.C. United - Richmond Kickers match, which will be contested Wednesday night in Richmond, Va. The Fire's quarterfinal game will be played on the road either in Richmond or Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Aug 4.
Chicago will return to MLS play this weekend when it travels to East Rutherford, N.J. to finish off a home-and-home series against the MetroStars at Giants Stadium this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT. Columbus now travels to Denver to face the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, July 24, at 5 p.m. (ET) at INVESCO Field at Mile High in a game that is televised on ESPN2.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Damani Ralph
CLB -- Frankie Hejduk 1 (Chris Wingert 1) 27
CHI -- Damani Ralph 1 (penalty kick) 66
CHI -- Damani Ralph 2 (Chris Armas 1) 106+
Chicago Fire -- Henry Ring, C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Denny Clanton, Logan Pause, Chris Armas (Capt.), Nate Jaqua, Orando Perez (Leonard Griffin 45), Andy Williams (Dipsy Selolwane 65), Damani Ralph, Justin Mapp (Kelly Gray 93+).
TOTAL SHOTS: 27 (Damani Ralph 6); SHOTS ON GOAL: 15 (Damani Ralph, Dipsy Selolwane 3); FOULS: 19 (Leonard Griffin, Damani Ralph 3); OFFSIDES: 1 (Nate Jaqua 1); CORNER KICKS: 9 (Chris Armas, Justin Mapp 4); SAVES: 5 (Henry Ring 5).
Columbus Crew -- Jon Busch, Duncan Oughton, Robin Fraser (Capt.), Chad Marshall (Brian Maisonneuve 83), Chris Wingert (Stephen Herdsman 75) (Eric Denton 93+), Simon Elliott, Kyle Martino, Ross Paule, Frankie Hejduk, Edson Buddle, Jeff Cunningham.
TOTAL SHOTS: 12 (Edson Buddle 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (Edson Buddle, Jeff Cunningham 2); FOULS: 26 (Frankie Hejduk, Kyle Martino 4); OFFSIDES: 4 (Jeff Cunningham 3); CORNER KICKS: 2 (Edson Buddle, Simon Elliott 1); SAVES: 13 (Jon Busch 13)
CHI -- Andy Williams (caution; Reckless Foul) 13
CHI -- Logan Pause (caution; Professional Foul) 19
CLB -- Frankie Hejduk (caution; Professional Foul) 33
CLB -- Kyle Martino (caution; Persistent Infringement) 34
CHI -- Denny Clanton (caution; Pushing, Holding) 68
CLB -- Brian Maisonneuve (caution; Pushing, Holding) 96
CLB -- Edson Buddle (ejection, Serious Foul Play) 97
Referee: Ali Saheli
Referee's Assistants: Nathan Clement, Jeffrey Mellen
4th Official: Maikael Lundqvist
Time of Game: 2:19
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 83 degrees