Fire aim for 6th Open Cup final appearance

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The four-time Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champion Chicago Fire have touted their best available lineup throughout this year's tournament.

The same cannot be said for some other MLS squads, and you only have to look at the Fire's 4-0 quarterfinal win over a reserve-laden New York Red Bulls side on July 12 to come to that conclusion.

But the semifinal round will not have that type of aura to it as Chicago hosts the USL Pro's Richmond Kickers on Tuesday at Toyota Park (broadcast available at Chicago-Fire.com). Being the only non-MLS team remaining in this year's tournament, the Kickers no doubt will try everything to halt the Fire's deepest run in the Open Cup since their 2006 championship over the Los Angeles Galaxy.

"This is a tournament that we take very seriously," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "This has been one of our goals from the beginning, to put ourselves in a position to win the U.S. Open Cup. Now we have a great opportunity on Tuesday. We're not going to underestimate anyone."

Chicago is in the midst of its most successful stretch of the 2010 MLS season. The Fire (4-7-15) posted back-to-back shutout victories against Toronto FC on Aug. 21 and the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.

Richmond's USL Pro campaign came to a close on Saturday when the Kickers fell to Orlando City, 3-0, in the American Division finals. Orlando advanced to the league's title match, which the team is hosting on Saturday against Harrisburg City.

That puts the focus squarely on the third-division club's Open Cup run. The Kickers advanced to the 1995 Open Cup final and defeated the El Paso Patriots, 4-2, in penalties. During Richmond's '95 run, the Kickers topped the Chicago Stingers, 4-3, in the semifinal round.

Richmond has advanced to the quarterfinal stage of the tournament four times over the past 11 years, and in its Open Cup history has posted a 5-8 record against MLS teams. The Kickers topped MLS's Sporting Kansas City in this year's quarterfinal, 2-0, with Shaka Bangura and David Bulow netting goals. Bulow has a tournament-high six goals.

"I've seen tapes of Richmond when they played Kansas City, and they have pace," Klopas said. "They're a team that's well-organized. So we have to come and make sure that we're ready to play for 90 minutes. The good thing is that we're playing at home, for sure. We feel great about that, in front of our home fans."

The winner of Tuesday's match will take on either Seattle Sounders FC or FC Dallas. Should the Fire advance and if Dallas wins its semifinal, Chicago would host the Open Cup final on Oct. 4 at Toyota Park. If the Fire and Sounders win, Seattle will host the championship. The Kickers will play on the road if they advance past Tuesday.

The Fire and Kickers have met once before. Chicago topped the Kickers, 1-0, on Aug. 4, 2004, in the Open Cup quarterfinals. That year Chicago advanced to the title match, only to fall to the Kansas City Wizards.

The Fire's communications department said on Sunday that midfielder Pavel Pardo should be available for Tuesday. Pardo was subbed out at halftime of the Fire's 2-0 win over Colorado on Saturday for a hamstring strain. Daniel Paladini was Pardo's replacement, and Paladini came up with a clutch goal-line stop to maintain a shutout against the Rapids.

Despite some upcoming national team call-ups, the Fire will have their full team on hand for Richmond. Orr Barouch was called up to Israel's U-21 squad for a match next Monday against England. Midfielder Marco Pappa was called in to play for Guatemala when it faces St. Vincent/Grenadines on Friday and Belize next Tuesday. Both players will depart after Tuesday's Open Cup match.

The Fire's schedule works out perfectly as Chicago does not have a regular-season match during their call-ups. Chicago resumes MLS action on Sept. 10 against the San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium.