BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Chicago Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas called Tuesday’s 2-1 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semifinal win over the USL-Pro Richmond Kickers a “special moment” for his team.
He couldn’t have been more spot on.
The Fire, who have endured more than their fair share of struggles this season, were all smiles on Tuesday night, positively thrilled to have booked the franchise’s sixth trip to the Open Cup final.
“We’re just really excited, especially with how the season has been going,” said veteran Gonzalo Segares who, along with Logan Pause, are the only current Fire players who were on the team the last time it won the USOC in 2006. “Being a part of a tournament like this — being in a final that, if we win, it’s going to give us the opportunity to play in the Champions League — it's vital.”
The players partied on the field after the final whistle, taking a victory lap and jumping into Section 8 to celebrate with the fans. They were equally raucous in the postgame locker room, hooting and hollering all the way out the door.
While Klopas didn’t celebrate as loudly as some of his players did, it was still very clear that the victory meant a lot to him.
“Obviously it puts us in a situation in the final with an opportunity to win something,” Klopas said. “We knew what was at stake. Moments like this, you can’t let them slip away because that’s how you build a team, with tradition. These guys know the history of the club, but the good thing about it is that they want to write their own history.”
Klopas said the Fire’s difficult season — the team is 14th in the overall MLS standings, five points behind New York for the 10th and final playoff spot — made Tuesday’s victory even more meaningful.
“It’s fantastic,” he said. “I know that throughout the season, some of the results haven’t been there, but I know the team has played well. It’s great that we’re now in a situation like this, where we come off of a very difficult game against Colorado [last Saturday], an emotional game, a mentally and physically draining game, to come back after a couple days and pull this one out in a difficult match in front of our home fans was fantastic.”
The Fire will have their chance to lift their fifth Open Cup crown on Oct. 4, when they’ll take on two-time defending tournament champions Seattle at CenturyLink Field. It will certainly be a tough game in a hostile environment, but that doesn’t mean Klopas isn’t already looking forward to it.
“We have a chance to [write our own history],” he said. “We’re one game away.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.