A second-half goal from forward Dipsy Selolwane proved to be all the Chicago Fire would need to advance in the 2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Wednesday night, as the Fire defeated the Richmond Kickers of the USL A-League 1-0 in a quarterfinal contest in front of 5,712 fans at the University of Richmond Stadium.
While Chicago is mired in a nine-game winless streak over the last two months in MLS play, the Fire has garnered a pair of victories over the last three weeks in Open Cup play. With the victory, the "Men in Red" have earned the right to continue their defense of the Dewar Cup in the tournament's semifinals, where they will host another A-League foe, the Charleston Battery on Aug. 25 at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium in Naperville, Ill., at 7:30 p.m. CT.
"We've taken this cup very seriously and we're very pleased with the result," said Fire head coach Dave Sarachan. "We're always critical that the little pieces of the soccer could always be better, but I was very proud of my team for keeping its shape and composure against a team that really dropped off on us. We needed patience and we got the goal from Dipsy and ended up advancing, so we're extremely pleased."
The match started sluggishly, with both sides content to feel each other out in the first 10 minutes of their first-ever meeting. The first shots on goal from each team came on 25-yard efforts from Selolwane in the 13th minute and Richmond midfielder Joey Worthen in the 17th minute, but neither attempt tested the opposing goalkeepers.
The most dangerous chance of the first quarter of the match came in the 22nd minute, when Worthen beat Kelly Gray to the left endline and sent a cross inside the six-yard box that just sailed over the heads of forwards McColm Cephas and Kevin Jeffrey.
The match remained mired in the midfield until the 38th minute, when Richmond had a pair of chances, first when Fire goalkeeper Henry Ring mishandled a throw-in deep that landed in the six-yard box before being cleared out of danger and then when Cephas got to a loose ball eight yards out that he sent well over the crossbar. The Fire's best opportunity of the half came a minute later when Nate Jaqua found himself with some space 12 yards to the right of goal, but his mishit chance trickled directly to Kickers goaltender Ronnie Pascale.
The second 45 minutes started much as the first, with neither team eager to go to goal. The Fire did get a decent chance in the 54th minute when Jaqua connected with an off-balance header off an Orlando Perez cross from the left side, but the lanky forward sent the chance wide left.
But the Fire capitalized on a similar play just two minutes later, with Selolwane scoring his first goal for the Fire in nearly three months to give Chicago the eventual game-winner. The play started when captain Chris Armas played a short corner kick from the left side 15 yards out to Perez, who snapped a cross inside the penalty area that found Selolwane seven yards from goal. The Botswanan international had plenty of space and easily beat Pascale with a header to give Chicago the 1-0 advantage in the 56th minute.
That lead was in peril for much of the next 10 minutes, with Ring stepping up to make several big saves and punches off his line to keep the Fire ahead. The biggest play came in the 60th minute, as Jeffrey found himself behind the Fire defense on a one-on-one breakaway. As the Trinidad & Tobago international dribbled into the right side of the area, Ring did well to come off his line and dove low to his left to snuff Jeffrey's chance from 10 yards out.
While Richmond held possession for much of the remainder of the match, it was Chicago that had the best chances off their counterattack. Andy Williams' free kick from 15 yards just outside the penalty area was destined for goal, but Pascale trapped the chance at the near left post. That attempt was countered by a Mike Burke blast from 14 yards that was blocked by C.J. Brown before it could test Ring in the 77th minute.
The last 10 minutes of the contest belonged to the Fire, with chances by Ralph, Logan Pause, and Leonard Griffin to double the lead all going for naught. The final chance for Richmond came three minutes deep into added time when a Mike Burke cross from the right flank first missed a pair of intended targets before skipping just two feet wide of the far right post.
The Fire win, coupled with Charleston's 1-0 upset victory at the Rochester Raging Rhinos on Wednesday night, means Chicago will host the Battery in the semifinal round of the nation's oldest soccer competition at its former temporary home of Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium (formerly Cardinal Stadium) on the campus of North Central College in Naperville, where the Fire won twice en route to its 2003 Open Cup title.
CHI - Dipsy Selolwane 1 (Orlando Perez 1) 56
Chicago Fire - Henry Ring, Kelly Gray (Denny Clanton 65), C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Orlando Perez, Logan Pause, Chris Armas (Capt.), Andy Williams (Sumed Ibrahim 88), Nate Jaqua (Leonard Griffin 80), Damani Ralph, Dipsy Selolwane (Craig Capano 80).
TOTAL SHOTS: 10; SHOTS ON GOALS: 3; FOULS: 14; OFFSIDES: 3; CORNER KICKS: 7; SAVES: 2.
Richmond Kickers - Ronnie Pascale, Chris Fox, Tony Williams, Pete Luzak, Kevin Knight, Richie Williams (Capt.), Clyde Simms (Mike Burke 69), Paul Lekics (Matt Bobo 63), Kevin Jeffrey (Matthew Delicate 63), McColm Cephas, Joey Worthen (David Hayes 63).
TOTAL SHOTS: 10; SHOTS ON GOAL: 2; FOULS: 11; OFFSIDES: 2; CORNER KICKS: 5; SAVES: 2.
CHI - Kelly Gray (caution, Professional Foul) 31
CHI - Craig Capano (caution, Reckless Foul) 82
CHI - Logan Pause (caution, Delay of Restart) 90
Referee: Alex Prus
Referee's Assistants: Bill Dittmar, Kenneth Kaplan
4th Official: Andrew Chapin