Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire knocked the Atlanta Silverbacks out of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup with a 3-1 victory to advance to the semi-finals.
The four-time winners have now won more matches in this competition than they have in the league since the turn of the year, and netted through Quincy Amarikwa, Jeff Larentowicz and Alex.
The Silverbacks had previously disposed of MLS high-flyers Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids in their best ever cup run, but this was a step too far, though Deon McCauley had equalised in the 54th minute.
Jaime Chavez – the Georgians’ top-scorer in what has been a difficult campaign in the North American Soccer League – was among a quintet of Atlanta representatives looking on from the stands due to suspension. This was a theme that continued here as both sides lost a man in Jesus Gonzalez and Mike Magee.
Within five minutes of kick-off the Silverbacks should have been ahead. Junior Sandoval was found in acres of space on the right and bore down on goal, but was brilliantly denied twice by Sean Johnson.
Undeterred, the Honduran again cut inside, though this time a tame effort trickled wide of the far post.
Despite all of the early play coming from the hosts, Amarikwa almost produced the game’s first goal with a magical run. The former Rapids forward danced past numerous challenges, but – with the goal at his mercy – Mike Randolph intercepted superbly.
Although the Fire used this chance as a springboard to enjoy an extended spell of possession, Atlanta retained an interest and Junior Burgos shot straight at Johnson.
The 25-year-old midfielder – the son of a former El Salvador international – has yet to score in the league this season, but must have thought he’d added his fourth Open Cup goal in the 20th minute. Burgos unleashed a curler from the edge of the area that appeared destined for the top corner, until the Chicago goalkeeper produced a flying save on his return to his home state.
Red mist descends
An already crackling tie was then ignited further by a sensational double-dismissal. Reigning MLS Most Valuable Player Magee kicked out at a home player, before Gonzalez needlessly got involved and appeared to headbutt the United States star – leaving referee Edvin Jurisevic with little option but to send both men off.
The Silverbacks had been on top heading into the half-time break, but the top tier side started the second period on top. Grant Ward’s dangerous centre initiated a goal-mouth scramble, and the Fire were soon ahead.
Rookie of the Year contender Harry Shipp whipped a free-kick onto Larentowicz’s head from the left, and when Derby Carrillo blocked with his legs Amarikwa was able to prod home.
Eric Wynalda’s charges showed no sign of collapsing though, and instantly equalised. Having attacked straight from the restart, Atlanta were rewarded for their unwavering enthusiasm as McCauley converted from a Sandoval pass.
Shipp is developing into one of the finest midfielder players in the country, and it was he who started a move that concluded in Amarikwa shooting off target –the goal-scorer’s final touch before his withdrawal in favour of debutant Matt Fondy.
As they had after falling behind the Silverbacks remained a threat on the counter, but they were soon grateful to goalkeeper Carrillo as he repelled Fondy’s attempt from a tight angle.
Unfortunately for the underdogs though, Chicago’s new signing was felled in the area nine minutes from time and won his team a penalty. Larentowicz stepped up and scuffed his spot-kick across the line to break the locals’ hearts.
Alex Healey came close to an immediate response, but it was quickly 3-1 and game-over. Substitute Alex played in Ward, and when the Tottenham Hostpur loanee’s finish was deflected away, the Brazilian was on hand to poke into the bottom corner.
Ward fired into the side-netting in the final moments, but a fourth goal would have been harsh on Atlanta. However, The Fire were content with their progression that sealed a trip to the Pacific Northwest in the last four.
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