BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Staring down a charging David Accam is not a pleasant position to be in, as two members of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers found out Wednesday night.
Accam’s driving runs created two first-half goals – scoring one and assisting on the other – as the Chicago Fire beat Fort Lauderdale, 3-0, in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup at Toyota Park.
Midseason signings Michael de Leeuw and Khaly Thiam added goals for the Fire, who advance to the semifinals of the Open Cup for the fourth consecutive season.
“Every competition is huge for us, but with this we are close to winning a trophy,” Accam said. “For us we’re trying to take every serious and this will boost the morale of the team. We keep winning these games then we have a chance in every competition we play.”
The Fire will meet the New England Revolution in the semifinals. The draw for the semifinals and final is scheduled to take place Thursday morning. Despite playing in three consecutive semifinals, the Fire have not reached the final of the Open Cup (a tournament they’ve won four times) since losing in the 2011 final.
On Wednesday, it took just five minutes for the Fire to go ahead against the last lower-division team remaining in the competition.
Arturo Alvarez sprung Accam into a wide-open space behind the right side of the Strikers’ defense. One-on-one with goalkeeper Diego Restrepo, Accam tried to touch the ball around him and was taken down, winning a penalty.
“I don’t know, maybe they didn’t check our videos,” Accam said with a laugh. “Yeah I had a lot of space and for us we try to utilize the space they leave behind and it paid off.”
Accam stutter stepped and beat Restrepo high to the right, making it 1-0 with his fourth goal in three Open Cup matches.
“It did a lot,” Accam said of the quick goal. “That’s what we talked about in the locker room, we wanted to start the game early and our first goal we just went straight to their half and the first goal was the difference today.”
The Ghanaian went to work again in the 35th minute. Accam took the ball at the top of the box and drove at Gale Agbossoumonde, spinning him to the ground. Restrepo forced Accam wide enough to his left that he couldn’t get a shot on target, but Michael de Leeuw was on hand at the back post to make it 2-0.
“For me, that’s a good striker,” Accam said. “He was in a good place, most people would not be there and for him it paid off because he was in a good position.”
Khaly Thiam added the third goal in the 51st minute, knocking in a rebound from close range after Restrepo saved Nick LaBrocca’s initial header.
“I think today, especially in the second half, I think we had a great opportunity to rehearse how to play, how to control the game,” Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said. “When Fort Lauderdale had, after the third goal obviously they dropped a little more, so it was a great opportunity for us to learn how to manage these kind of games, where you have the possession, where you have to build your play, be patient and be precise with the ball. So find a way to build opportunities and create chances through the possession and going one side to another. So all these kind of things were very important for us.
“That’s also why I was also trying to motivate them because when we have 3-0 I want to win four and I want to score a fifth. That’s the mentality that we are looking for and I wanted to transmit that to our players because it was actually a very good opportunity for us to rehearse on that side.”
The Strikers weren’t able to mount much against the Fire’s defense, with all but one of their shots coming from outside the 18-yard box.
“We want to win all our games,” Paunovic said. “Until we don’t get that mentality where we are not only trying to win but we achieve that and we feel comfortable with that role, this is what we’re looking for, to become a winning team. Today was a game where we could, at least for 45 minutes or 30 minutes, feel like a winning team. First time, for me, this year where we were comfortable and we didn’t suffer that much. But that’s just one small step. And next game, New England and then we move forward. This competition is very important for us.”
For the Strikers, any hopes of keeping their run alive all but disappeared when Agbossomounde was sent off for a second yellow card and the visitors went down to 10 men for the final 20 minutes.
“I think the early goal affected us. Obviously, you’re three minutes (in) down 1-0,” Restrepo said. “I think our intensity wasn’t there because of the shock of the goal and that really cost us. You could see the early difference. The other team worked pretty hard to get to every ball. I give credit to my guys in front of me, it wasn’t easy. We’ve been traveling the country back and forth playing games, but this is our profession.
“We’re proud that we got here but I think we’re not going to swallow this one for a while just because we wish we could have it back and start all over again. But credit to Chicago, they executed their plan and congrats on winning.”
MAN OF THE MATCH
Fire midfielder David Accam drew and scored the opening penalty before setting up the second goal.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
In the third minute, Fort Lauderdale goalkeeper Diego Restrepo brought David Accam down in the box. Accam sent Restrepo the wrong way on the penalty, giving Chicago an early lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
MATCH TO FORGET
Strikers defender Gale Agbossoumonde went flailing to the ground while back pedaling to defend Accam in the 35th minute, eventually leading to the Fire’s second goal. He ended up being sent off in the 70th minute after picking up a second yellow.