BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — After resting a number of key players at FC Dallas on Saturday, the Chicago Fire needed to deliver in Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal against Louisville City FC.
The Fire did just that in a resounding 4-0 win. Nemanja Nikolic and Aleksandar Katai had goals in a first half in which the Fire could have had four or five goals. Diego Campos and Elliot Collier added goals in the final minutes of the match.
Next up for the Fire is a semifinal against the Philadelphia Union, who beat Orlando City in an earlier quarterfinal to advance. The draw to determine the host of that semifinal, as well as hosting priority for the final, will take place Thursday. The Fire were last in an Open Cup semifinal in 2016.
The chase for an MLS playoff spot has taken a downturn with three straight losses in MLS play. The Fire are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, four points out of a playoff spot. Still, coach Veljko Paunović refused to say the cup has priority ahead of league play at this point.
“If I would say that, or if someone would say that, if my coach would say that, I would definitely kick him out of here,” Paunović said. “Every game is important. Open Cup is very important for us and we are very happy that we passed to the next round, but for us the league is also very important. It’s the same priority, getting in playoffs.”
Paunović said his team played with a bit more urgency and focus in the game.
Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger has won plenty of trophies in his career. He is now two wins away from winning one with the Fire.
“It is important,” Schweinsteiger said of the Open Cup. “It is a trophy to win. Now we have a chance to come closer. We play Philadelphia. It’s not an easy game to play, but we will definitely look forward to win that game and to come closer to win the trophy.”
Katai took a starring role as he has done in many games in the past couple months. He assisted on Nikolic’s 16th minute goal with a cross.
Later, Katai dribbled past three defenders on a counter. After Nikolic had a shot blocked, Schweinsteiger found Katai again for an open shot and the second goal.
Katai, who signed a contract with the Fire earlier this month after initially joining on loan, has continued to play well since signing the deal. He said it has made him more comfortable.
“It’s much easier for me,” Katai said. “I don’t need to think about those things and now it’s much, much better.”
Next up for the Fire is back-to-back games against Toronto FC. The defending MLS Cup champions have struggled this year, but are starting to get players back from injury. If Toronto can regain it’s top form, the Reds could join the Fire in the playoff chase. These next two games, one at each venue, will be crucial for both teams.
“We have to park the Open Cup for three weeks and focus on the league,” Paunović said. “Next game Saturday Toronto, the reigning champion. One of the best teams. Don’t forget that this team last year showed amazing performance in all the competitions they played with fantastic players.”