The Chicago Fire will hit the pause button on their struggling MLS campaign on Tuesday night when they take on the New England Revolution in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup semifinal at Gillette Stadium (8 pm ET, ESPN2).
In some respects, Chicago’s season hangs in the balance with the match. The Fire currently sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They also haven't won on the road in over two calendar years, a stretch of 38 games across all competitions (36 in league play, and two in USOC).
But that isn’t stopping head coach Veljko Paunovic from remaining optimistic that the team can advance to their seventh Open Cup final in club history as they go for a modern-era record fifth tournament title.
“This is the game that everyone wants to play,” Paunovic told MLSsoccer.com. “A competition like Open Cup has a special feeling, a special identity, and as we’ve said many times in the past, for our club, it’s traditionally very important. That’s reflected in every single player in our squad. Our team is capable of switching from the league performance, and switching very fast to Open Cup, and so far, we’re doing well. That makes me feel better about our possibilities for tomorrow. The guys are very motivated and excited; I can feel that.”
One of the challenges the Fire will also face is the limit on international players who can be part of the game day roster in the tournament. While Ghanaian winger David Accam holds a green card and does not take up an international spot, Paunovic will have to decide which of his other six international players will make the roster. He indicated that the final decision won’t come until after the team's final training session ahead of Tuesday’s game.
The Fire have faced New England twice this season already, both losses at Gillette Stadium. The last meeting came less than a month ago, a 1-0 loss on July 23 by way of an 85th-minute goal from Je-Vaughn Watson, in a game that was more closely contested than the 2-0 loss the Fire experienced at the Revs' hands on May 14. Those games have given Paunovic and the Fire more confidence heading into Tuesday’s match-up, as they attempt to salvage something positive out of a season that has failed to meet expectations.
“For us that [New England game] was a tough loss, but we learned from it, and now we are more excited," Paunovic said. "The team is up for the game."