But the Windy City side won’t improve upon that mark in 2022, losing in penalty kicks to Union Omaha in the Third Round on Tuesday night at Soldier Field – the first time an MLS team has lost to a USL League One outfit in the storied national competition.
That fact drew clear emotions from first-year head coach Ezra Hendrickson when speaking after a 2-2 draw that was settled by a 5-4 shootout in the third-division club’s favor.
“Frankly, I'm pissed off because the team that we're trying to build here – and it doesn't matter who's on the pitch – I don't think tonight we displayed Chicago Fire soccer,” Hendrickson said. “It was just not intense enough. We didn't play fast enough and I felt like we were too casual on the night. We warned these guys that, when you play a team like this from a lower division, they feel like they have a lot to prove. They're gonna come, they're gonna bring intensity, they're gonna bring the effort and we have to match that. And I don't think that we did that tonight.”
Chicago deployed a rotated starting XI, with five players making their official debut for the club, which has become home to MLS’s stingiest defense (two goals conceded) in the season’s early stages by going 2W-1L-4D in league play.
With those changes, Hendrickson addressed the Fire missing a “killer instinct” in multiple phases of the game. They got two penalty kick scores from captain and center back Rafael Czichos, only for Union Omaha to equalize in the second half and in the 122nd minute as extra time was on the verge of ending. Czichos was a last-minute replacement for defender Carlos Terán, who was a late scratch due to injury.
“We created so many chances, especially in the first half, to put this team away and we didn't,” Hendrickson said. “It took us two penalty kicks in the run of play to stay in the game with this team, which it shouldn't have been like that. So, I'm very disappointed with the way we showed up tonight and how we performed and that will not happen again."
In the penalty kick shootout, both forward Kacper Przybylko and defender Miguel Navarro – late substitutes as Hendrickson turned to first-choice options – missed their shots against the Nebraska-based side, which won the 2021 USL League One title.
Chicago goalkeeper Spencer Richey made one stop during the shootout, but it couldn’t prevent the club from experiencing a familiar Open Cup fate. This was their third-ever USOC PK exit, having lost from the spot to now-USL Championship side Charleston Battery in 2010 and to FC Cincinnati (pre-MLS days) in 2017.
Asked about his takeaways after spelling Gaga Slonina, Richey pointed to issues of focus.
“It's a third division team and maybe they don't have the quality of players that we do but if you lose focus, if you lose concentration – I mean, MLS is a league of parity, and it clearly can happen,” Richey said. “The worst team can beat the best team in MLS on any given day. And today, it was a more extreme example that we weren't sharp enough on both ends of the field.”
The Fire have now gone four games without scoring from open play, missing star midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri (calf injury). And new DP winger Jairo Torres won’t formally join from Liga MX's Atlas until May 1, hampering final-third efficiency for a club that’s posted just 6.81 expected goals (second-worst in MLS) thus far.
Learning from this Cupset, Hendrickson said they must turn the corner quickly as league play resumes. They'll visit Minnesota United FC on Saturday in a nationally-televised match (5 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes).
“This is gonna hurt. It's gonna hurt for a while because I feel like we are the better team and we should be going on,” Hendrickson said. “But they didn't come here and lay down tonight. No, they came here and fought because they wanted to go through.
“ … The mentality was just not there tonight and I'm very upset about that. Because one of the things that we want to do here is always, always play hard and play with the right attitude, play with the right discipline. And we didn't display that tonight and I'm very, very upset about that."