Late goals by Jeff Larentowicz and Alex rescued the Chicago Fire from a US Open Cup scare Wednesday night against the Atlanta Silverbacks, giving them a 3-1 victory in a quarterfinals matchup at Atlanta Silverbacks Park.
A hotly contested match from the outset – featuring the ejection of the Chicago’s Mike Magee and Atlanta’s Jesus Gonzalez for a first-half dust-up – was tied at 1-1 after goals from Quincy Amarikwa and Deon McCaulay early in the second half.
The victory puts the Fire, shooting for an all-time record-tying fifth USOC title, in the semifinals for the second straight season. The tournament run for former USMNT star Eric Wynalda’s NASL side, making their first quarterfinals appearance in the Open Cup, comes to an end after they knocked off Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids.
The Fire will face the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders in the semifinals.
The 1-1 deadlock was broken against the run of play when Chicago’s Harrison Shipp picked off an Atlanta clearance in the area and flipped to newly signed forward Matt Fondy, who was taken down in the box in the 80th minute.
Referee Edvin Jurisevic pointed to the spot and Larentowicz coolly converted past goalkeeper Derby Carrillo.
Chicago added an insurance goal five minutes later when Alex made a run up the middle of the park and fed to Grant Ward for a shot. The blast rebounded straight to Alex who easily cleaned up.
Extra-curricular antics, following the fracas in Atlanta's fifth-round victory over the Rapids that resulted in red cards and suspension for this game of three players an assistant coach and Wynalda, continued to follow the Silverbacks on Wednesday. The dust-up between Magee and Gonzalez in the 30th minute resulted in both players being sent off. Magee appeared to kick out after a challenge, resulting in a head butt by Gonzalez.
Outside of the post-whistle scuffle, the Silverbacks proved to be the aggressor for much of the night with several golden opportunities to open the scoring.
In the fifth minute, Junior Sandoval was left all alone on the right wing. But Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson came out on top of the one-v-one standoff, stoning the Silverbacks winger.
Johnson, making a return to his hometown, was called into duty once again in the 20th minute, lunging to parry a long shot from Junior Burgos from the left wing over the bar.
Chicago’s best opportunity for an early goal came in the 11th minute when Amarikwa cleverly maneuvered around a handful of Silverbacks defenders into the box, but Mike Randolf came up with a big clearance on the shot attempt.
Amarikwa’s goal came in the 50th minute when he cleaned up a rebound on a Larentowicz shot off a nicely placed Shipp cross. McCaulay, a Belize international, equalized four minutes later.