The Chicago Fire will meet the Kansas City Wizards on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. CT in the 2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The match will be televised live on GolTV, including a 30-minute pregame show beginning at 7 p.m. CT.
Kansas City Wizards head coach BOB GANSLER:
Every team in the league talks about winning two cups when they set their goals in February. Chicago and us made it so far. We are looking forward to that. No one gets to this point unless they have been competent, and although both teams are chasing game-to-game consistency of late, we deserve to be here, and I think it is going to be an exciting match for the players and the fans.
Kansas City Wizards midfielder DIEGO GUTIERREZ:
This is a very important game for us at this point. I've been blessed enough to have been a part of - this will be my third Open Cup Final - a championship team. I won it with Chicago back in 1998 and 2000. Joining now the other side playing for Kansas City, it is going to be a special game for me as well since I get to face my old teammates. There's a lot at stake in this game. Our group has focused all year round on this tournament. We've worked extremely hard and conscientiously, and we are glad to be in the final. Hopefully we'll have a great turnout of fans to put on a good show.
Chicago Fire head coach DAVE SARACHAN:
We're thrilled to have another opportunity to be in a championship final with the idea of trying to win it again as defending champion. I was obviously blessed last year to be a part of a championship final victory in New York, and it is quite a good feeling. As all teams do at the beginning of the year, you have two goals in mind when you set out your campaign and that is to lift two trophies. We have an opportunity right now to lift the Dewar Cup. It's our domestic cup. We're excited to have the opportunity to face Kansas City, who has had a very good season thus far and deserves to be there as we feel we have, as we've had a good run in the Open Cup so far.
Chicago Fire midfielder JESSE MARSCH:
I'm excited to be involved in the final of this tournament. I actually haven't played in a single game yet, but I'll be ready on Wednesday. Diego can echo this, but when you win the Open Cup once, I think you realize how special it is and you start to really yearn to win it again. I take it very seriously, and I know that our team will and I know that Kansas City will so it will be a fun, hard-fought match.
On the league-wide increase in the importance of the U.S. Open Cup:
Diego Gutierrez: I can say, speaking for myself from the time that I was with the Fire, the approach that we took to the Cup was always with the mentality of winning and working hard to win it. I believe that hasn't changed given the success that Chicago has had in the last few years in it. With Kansas City it's no different. We've had some unfortunate results in years past. This year, like I said, one of our main goals was to make sure we were one of the last teams standing in this tournament. We've achieved that and, hopefully, Wednesday night will be the first night that the Kansas City Wizards are entitled to lift this trophy.
Jesse Marsch: I think that my experience stems back from being with D.C. United and being in two finals in the first two years, and coming to Chicago. I think that being a part of those teams felt that it was really important to win, to put a lot of importance on winning the Open Cup as soon as you got out here. That was an initial factor. Another thing that actually bothered me was in 1999 when Rochester was actually able to win it. I try to put a lot of pride into what our league is about and how successful the teams are in our league and how good the players are in this league. You look around the world and there are second-division teams that win the Cup sometimes and whatnot, but that really bothered me and I think that it really bothered a lot of players around the league. It really motivated them to perform at a higher level. You started seeing a squad of first-teams in the first round instead of seeing a squad of second-teams, substitute players and stuff like that. I think now you see mostly starting teams playing in every game in the Open Cup.
On the difference in winning the MLS Cup and the Open Cup:
Jesse Marsch: I think you place most of your importance throughout the year in winning the MLS Cup. Like you said it's an eight-month, 10-month process so you'd be lying if you said that the Open Cup, at the end of the day, is as valuable. It's certainly something that takes very high priority in what you're trying to do and as you win the first round you see the importance a little bit more in the second round. Each round you get you start to recognize the importance a little bit more. For any player that plays any sports you play to win some championships. It sounds like a cliché, but it's true. When you're done playing, unfortunately Diego and I are getting closer to being done playing, but we're definitely going to be proud of the championships that we've won. We'll both remember our Open Cups. I'll remember this just as much as my MLS Cup.
Diego Gutierrez: Another thing, as Jesse said, I don't think you'll encounter a player who will rather be second in the MLS Cup than to be champion of the Open Cup. I believe everybody is in to win it. Perhaps the approach is different, since it's an eight-month campaign and you continue playing the same teams. At the end of the day you are somewhat familiar with the players that you face. In Open Cup competition, depending on how you play, like Jesse was saying in the Rochester example, you're not as familiar with players. You have to approach the game a little bit different, and therefore you get surprises. I think, in our particular case with our team, we've tried to maintain the same group of guys on the field at all time to try to develop some kind of consistency. I think it's been hard. Obviously, we've had a lot of injuries but, overall, I believe that the team has done a good job. Not only knowing how to respond to these injuries, but also getting results in this competition.
On challenges of coaching teams in the MLS and U.S. Open Cup at the same time:
Dave Sarachan: Yes, there are challenges. In our case, we're coming off a weekend where things didn't go so great for us. We're certainly in a dogfight in our conference so it's a quick turnaround, mentality-wise, over the weekend to now put the Open Cup hat on and put the focus on Wednesday. We've addressed that, we've talked about that. I believe that we have very good professionals in our locker room that understand the next task and not dwelling on last weekend and not worrying about the upcoming weekend. Talk is easy, but we've addressed it. I think it is a challenge but there's a lot at stake where I feel that we'll be able to be ready for Wednesday.
Bob Gansler: For us, it's been from the get-go, whether it's Atlanta or Dallas, San Jose and now Chicago, it's a matter of games. There's a game that needs to be won. I think all players have relished the opportunity for its enactment. This is a must-win game. This is there to be won, like those Open Cup games that we participated in. I think players like to measure themselves. As far as playing Wednesday and then again Saturday, well, we do that in league competition, too.
On how the Fire approaches this important game after struggling on the road this season:
Dave Sarachan: Again, whether it's a home or on the road, this is a one-game-and-out game. Obviously we've had to win on the road in the Open Cup this year, which we've done. We won the Open Cup in New York last year, so being on the road on Wednesday should not interfere with the task at hand, in our minds, and I think our guys understand that.
Jesse Marsch: For me, it has been a bit of an up-and-down year for us, I think. Any year after you're successful is a bit like that. But to play in a final I don't think you need much motivation or many locker-room talks or anything like that. Guys play to win championships, bottom line. We're excited to be there. It's a chance for us to move forward with this. If we can be successful on Wednesday, I think it will, hopefully, loosen us up for the rest of the season.
On if getting prepared for mid-week games against teams in earlier rounds is difficult:
Diego Gutierrez: It could be. I believe if you didn't have the right group of players you could encounter a situation like that. I believe that our group has been on focus all year. Our main goal was to win a couple of championships this year. We're professionals. We have to bring it every day, especially games of this magnitude, the right way. I believe every single player on our roster has been ready for this game. Obviously our results reflect that. It's not just the 11 guys taking the field at any given point. It's everybody on the bench including the coaching staff. Everybody for us has done a tremendous job of approaching the games the right way and our results reflect that.
Jesse Marsch: I've been on both sides of those games. Before the leagues started and when I was in college I'd play on men's league teams that would play A-League teams in the Open Cup and stuff like that, and we'd be the underdogs. Then you play on MLS team against those A-League teams and you're trying to squash the underdog a little bit. It's pretty fun to be involved with it. It's high emotion, usually, for the minor league and it adds a little bit to the game. I always think that if you get your team to approach the game with the most professional atmosphere and attitude that the things that you're good at and the reason why this team is professional and that team is not, usually those qualities will come out in those games and then you'll be able to take care of business. But on any given day, just like I said earlier, in any league around the world you see upsets. It's what makes this tournament a little bit more fun, I think, in terms of competition.
On playing for the Lamar Hunt Open Cup considering he's the team operator:
Bob Gansler: I don't think anyone needs any more motivation. It's already there, playing in an Open Cup final. Sometimes the line of questioning that comes is like we almost want to look for excuses to say why this cup isn't important. It is around the world. We've have to join those folks and we have to ways of praising the participants and stimulating the interest all round to the fans as well. Mr. Hunt is a special man and he has done so much for the sport and for our team in particular. Anytime you can please him you've more than pleased yourself. It's great to have him on our side.
Diego Gutierrez: I agree with coach Gansler. We don't need extra motivation, however the fact that name is on the trophy now it makes it sweeter for us.
On what effect the Chicago Fire's history in the Open Cup will have on this game:
Jesse Marsch: I think that's exiting for us and certainly gives us a little sense of history. At the end of the day, I am not sure that it will help us win. It's exciting and I'm happy to be on some successful Open Cup teams, but this game takes precedence over the ones that we have already won. We'll be able to talk about that more after the game I think. It's going to be a good match. Kansas City has had a good year and they've got a lot of difficult players to deal with. It's going to be a serious challenge for us.
On if there is a way to pick a favored team going into the game:
Bob Gansler: Good teams perform. And if your perform, you win no matter where. It's not a matter of geography, it's a matter of talent and approach. I am sure David will have his folks ready, I hope that our folks will be ready and if you are looking for a handicap, call Vegas.
On the current streaks in MLS and having to change the mentality for the Open Cup:
Dave Sarachan: Well, if you win Wednesday, you keep the (Open Cup) hat on. If you don't, you switch hats, I guess. I think we've kind of beaten it to death, but I'll repeat what's been said. This is one important game that has a lot of meaning. You would like to think, because it is a game, as Bob had said, every game is a challenge for every team, trying to get things right, trying to make it better, trying to get better. The difference on Wednesday is, at the end of that game, one team lifts a trophy. But using that game to continue on, because the season does continue, can certainly help to, because any time you have the opportunity to get off the practice field and get into a real game, all the lessons are there. If that team can use that to continue on, good or bad, because there's going to be some examples of bad as well as good, then you'll do that.
On if winning the Open Cup is enough alone to signify a successful season: Dave Sarachan: It'll make some of the season. It's clear that there are two trophies that you vie for, and this is one of them. On the U.S. Open Cup side of things we were hoping to get to the final and win it. If we accomplish that they it will be an important step for us, and one that we will cherish. Will it substitute MLS Cup? No. We want to try to win both just like we tried to do last year and in years past. At the end of the season, whether we get to MLS Cup or not we will measure ourselves on trophies lifted, and if the U.S. Open Cup is one of them then we can look back and see that is one of the goals we have achieved. Simply put, some teams haven't had the best of form or most consistency and now they find themselves in this situation. I can tell you that we are not just going to - if we have the fortune to lift the trophy on Wednesday - just say the rest of the year doesn't mean anything, because it still does.
Jesse Marsch: I don't think it saves your season, but it certainly helps in a lot of ways. I think it will help with confidence. It will already help us knowing that we have one in the bank, and now we can throw everything out there and give our best effort to win the second. Any year you win an Open Cup, you're having a successful year.
On what can be done to increase the popularity of the Open Cup:
Bob Gansler: I think we've still got to do some educating of ourselves and the soccer folks out there. We haven't caught the romance of this. We don't have a handle of this. It's a strange concept for American sports to be running a tournament within a season and all of that. We've made some changes in other aspects in our league in terms of the shootout and substitutions and all of this sort of stuff. I think we're all in charge of education, but the media is. Rather than questioning it, let's extol its virtues. Extol the romance, the excitement, the David and Goliath things. I don't want to get on my soap box too high here, but you know what I'm saying. It is there, let's find the good in it. I think the players have, I think the coaches have. If anyone didn't initially do it correctly in terms of the approach and put lesser teams out there, we had it wrong. Maybe some other folks that keep questioning it, they have it wrong. I think the Federation also stepped up, because if my memory serves me correctly, initially there were not $100,000 out there for the winner. So let's continue to educate and upgrade it because this is part of selling this game.
Dave Sarachan: That's well said. I don't really have anything to follow up with but I think that education is the key. Each year more and more people, hopefully, will be exposed (to the Open Cup) thanks to you people, the media, because they're picking up the papers every day and they're listening to the radio every day, they're turning on the TV every day and if they're no Open Cup news then the education gets stunted. We're all in this together.
On the status of Chris Armas, Zach Thornton and Andy Herron: Dave Sarachan: Chris (Armas) is coming along very well. We don't know the status, on Wednesday, of Chris Armas but the recovery has been terrific. We hope this is a week where he can get back, whether it's Wednesday or Saturday. We're very pleased on that end. Andy Herron did see some minutes on the weekend and I think he's integrated himself with our group right from the start and has fit in very well. It wasn't an easy game for him, but I thought he did pretty well. He'll be eligible, obviously, this week. Zach (Thornton) is back with us. We're happy to have him. He has given us another experienced voice in the locker room. Having been off for a little bit, he's still getting up to speed in terms of his sharpness, quickness and form but I don't think it's going to take too long before he's hitting on all cylinders as well.