Chicago Fire's Paunovic: It's important for our club to advance in USOC

ATLANTA — The Chicago Fire took a critical step towards ending their 12-year silverware drought by beating Atlanta United in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 on Wednesday night.

The Fire beat Atlanta 1-0 thanks to a game-winner from last year’s Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic, finishing off a beautiful team goal at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“It’s very important for our club that we are progressing in this competition, which is very important historically for us,” said Chicago Fire manager Veljko Paunovic following the win. “But we still know that it’s a long way to go.”

The club has lifted the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Trophy four times in its history, but not since 2006.

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“Every game for us is almost as a final,” added Paunovic. “That’s how we approached this game and previous games too. And I think that’s what helps us to keep building the performance and the form of the team.”

The win, which Chicago earned in front of another record-setting crowd in Atlanta, gets the Fire to 48-16 all time in the tournament.

Nikolic’s goal was his third in the U.S. Open Cup and his ninth in all competitions this season.

“It is an important competition for all of us, for our club, for us players,” said Nikolic. “The most important is like always that the team win and we are now in a better mood than the beginning of the season and we want to grab this opportunity.”

The chance is certainly there for Chicago to advance deep into the tournament. They will face Louisville City FC in the quarterfinal round after the USL team beat Nashville SC 2-1 to advance earlier in the evening. With a victory over Louisville City, the Fire would reach their 13th U.S. Open Cup semifinal, and their sixth in eight years.

Paunovic said no matter the opponent, he and coaching staff will be ready his players for the next round.  

“We have to do our job as a coaching staff, prepare the game,” said Paunovic. “We believe the most important thing is always giving your best. To give your best, you have to mentally prepare for being the best you can.”