Longtime U.S. Open Cup hunters the Chicago Fire got their 2018 tournament run off to a good start on Wednesday, traveling to MAPFRE Stadium to outlast Columbus Crew SC in a dramatic Fourth Round duel that had to be decided by a marathon penalty-kick shootout.
Columbus were faster out of the gate and Cristian Martinez gave the hosts a deserved early lead with a calm right-footed finish after a run to the far post. Fire sniper Nemanja Nikolic leveled matters with a subtle redirection of a pacey low cross from Rafael Ramos shortly before halftime, however, and despite plenty of passing and possession for both sides, neither could break the deadlock before full time, leading to 30 minutes of extra time.
Chicago coach Veljko Paunovic brought veterans Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Aleksandar Katai off the bench down the stretch and they helped tip the balance in the Fire’s direction. A breakthrough finally arrived in the 109th minute when Nikolic stabbed home the game-winner moments after seeing another effort clang off the base of the right post – but Crew SC’s Adam Jahn conjured up some late magic of his own to equalize five minutes later.
Nikolic and Hector Jimenez failed to convert from the spot in the opening rounds of the shootout, but nearly everyone else did, leading to a full 11 rounds of PKs. When it was the goalkeepers' turn to shoot, Richard Sanchez netted his kick, then saved Logan Ketterer's to advance the Fire to the next round.
COLUMBUS CREW SC (4-2-3-1, right to left): #30 Logan Ketterer – #31 Connor Maloney (93' Milton Valenzuela), #21 Alex Crognale, #22 Gaston Sauro (78' Lalas Abubakar), #16 Hector Jimenez – #8 Mohammed Abu, #26 Luis Argudo – #28 Niko Hansen (65' Edward Opoku), #20 Eduardo Sosa, #18 Cristian Martinez – #14 Adam Jahn
Bench: #24 Jon Kempin, #17 Lalas Abubakar, #19 Milton Valenzuela, #2 Ricardo Clark, #10 Federico Higuain, #11 Gyasi Zardes, #27 Edward Opoku
CHICAGO FIRE (4-2-3-1, right to left): #45 Richard Sanchez – #27 Rafael Ramos, #16 Jonathan Campbell, #15 Grant Lillard, #25 Jorge Corrales, #3 Brandon Vincent – #13 Brandt Bronico, #12 Tony Tchani (65' Bastian Schweinsteiger) – #9 Luis Solignac (66' Dax McCarty), #20 Daniel Johnson (79' Aleksandar Katai), #17 Diego Campos – #23 Nemanja Nikolic
Bench: #30 Stefan Cleveland, #4 Johan Kappelhof, Vincent, #31 Bastian Schweinsteiger, #6 Dax McCarty, #10 Aleksandar Katai, #21 Alan Gordon.