The U.S. Open Cup has always been important to the Chicago Fire, but this year’s run didn’t last long.
The Fire were knocked out in their first match of the competition by USL Championship side Saint Louis FC. St. Louis won 2-1 at Harlen C. Hunter Stadium at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.
The Fire had an early flurry of chances, but St. Louis struck first. Austin Martz got inside his marker at the back post to head in a Russell Cicerone cross in the 17th minute. Four minutes later the hosts doubled the lead with Guy Abend heading in a Lewis Hilton free kick delivery from the left wing.
Things got worse for the Fire when defender Johan Kappelhof left with an injury in the 25th minute. Kappelhof left a May 29 game at D.C. United in the first half with a leg injury, but played the next game at Atlanta on June 1.
The Fire got back in it when Djordje Mihailovic was tripped in the box for a penalty kick. Nemanja Nikolić converted the penalty in the 72nd minute.
However, they weren’t able to get another and Saint Louis FC held on for its first win against an MLS opponent.
Saint Louis FC advances to the Round of 16. The draw will take place on Thursday, June 13.
The Fire have lost to USL teams on the road in two of the past three Open Cups, including a loss in a penalty shootout at FC Cincinnati in 2017.
The Fire were without Aleksandar Katai and Przemyslaw Frankowski, who are both with their national teams. Bastian Schweinsteiger did not travel for the match. It was otherwise a full strength lineup for the Fire.
Tuesday’s loss extended the Fire’s winless streak to five matches. With the Fire out of the Open Cup, the rest of the season will focus on getting into the playoffs, but they are outside the playoff spots currently.
The Fire are just one point behind Toronto FC for the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference, although TFC has a game in hand. Orlando City is tied with the Fire on points with a game in hand. On top of that, the gap to the teams above Toronto is growing. New York City FC, which sits in sixth place, is five points ahead of the Fire and has two games in hand.
In other words, getting into the playoffs won’t be easy and Tuesday’s loss eliminated a chance at a trophy that the Fire have typically valued. The Fire have won four Open Cups, but none since 2006. The Fire had made the semifinals in five of the past six Open Cups.