Columbus Crew SC and the Chicago Fire have plenty of memorable matches in the 21-year history of the rivalry. Some of the most epic matches have come in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Wednesday’s meeting between these two will go down as one of the best after the two sides battled to a 2-2 draw through 120 minutes before the Fire won 10-9 in a penalty kick shootout.
Just three minutes in, Columbus’ Cristian Martinez put Fire goalkeeper Richard Sanchez to work. The winger put a shot on goal that forced an early diving save from Sanchez.
It didn’t take long for the Black & Gold to get on the board. Just 10 minutes into the match, winger Niko Hansen intercepted a Chicago pass out of the back and played a quick switch into the feet of Martinez. The Panamanian took a touch before curling the ball around Sanchez for the early 1-0 lead.
Aside from a Hansen shot from the top of the penalty area that Sanchez easily saved, Crew SC did not create much else of note in the opening half. The Men in Red on the other hand got stronger after conceding the early goal.
Luis Solignac twice got in behind the Black & Gold’s defense over a seven-minute stretch. The first came in the 31st minute on a floated ball. The midfielder collected and fired a low shot that forced Columbus goalkeeper Logan Ketterer into a foot save. In the 38th minute, a lofted ball again came in, but this time Solignac attempted to flick it by Ketterer, but the attempt went wide.
Just before halftime, the Fire found the equalizer. Crew SC got caught too narrow and the Fire capitalized, finding Rafael Ramos wide. The fullback slotted a good across, ball that was easily tapped home by forward Nemanja Nikolic.
After a halftime talk that likely wasn’t pleasant, the Black & Gold were more aggressive to start the second 45 minutes. Columbus found a couple of early corners and one nearly found the back of the net. Rookie Luis Argudo curled one in that beat Sanchez and was headed off the line by a Chicago defender.
Perhaps Crew SC’s most dangerous player for much of the second half was left back Hector Jimenez. The converted winger hit a shot that went narrowly wide in the 59th minute and then cut on his right foot for an effort that went just over the crossbar in the 84th minute.
Two minutes after Jimenez’s second attempt, second half Fire substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger nearly found the back of the net. On a set piece opportunity, the former German National Team star headed a shot on frame, but Ketterer punched it over the crossbar.
More than 90 minutes, including stoppage time, was not enough to separate these two teams.
Both teams showed their fatigue in the first half of stoppage time with neither creating much of anything in the first 15 minutes of the extra period.
In the second 15 minutes of extra time, things heated up. After 109 minutes of play, there was finally a breakthrough and it came from a familiar name. Nikolic again was in the right place at the right time after Aleksandar Katai chipped a ball into the box that was deflected by Ketterer. The Chicago forward was there to put the ball into the empty net.
All was not lost though for the home side though, as Crew SC pushed forward, looking for the equalizer. After Martinez and second half substitute Milton Valenzuela helped to earn a corner, Black & Gold forward Adam Jahn rose up to power home a headed equalizer.
Once again, the center referee blew his whistle, this time to end extra time, and the two sides were tied.
A game like this couldn’t end on a simple penalty kick shoot out, of course. No, Crew SC and the Fire went through 11 rounds of penalty kicks with Nikolic and Jimenez the only two players who missed their attempts before the final two. Sanchez stepped up and put his attempt by a diving Ketterer. It was all on the Wisconsin native, who put his shot to his left, but Sanchez guessed correctly and made the save.
With that, Chicago once again advances to the Round of 16 in the Open Cup after defeating the Black & Gold.
Crew SC started six players 23 years of age or younger in the match. All three substitutes also fell into that category, as head coach Gregg Berhalter trusted his kids to get the job done against largely a first-choice Fire lineup.
On top of this, this game marked the debut for both goalkeeper Logan Ketterer (24), who started the match, and rookie Eduard Opoku (21), who came on in the 65th minute.
No one plays like Gaston
Center back Gaston Sauro’s road back to soccer after complications from a knee injury are well documented. Although he made his official return against Sporting Kansas City a couple of week, this was by far the most minutes, 78, that Sauro has played in a long time.
Gregg Berhalter said the Open Cup was the initial focus for his return, so fans may expect to see him more in future matches.
That will be it for the U.S. Open Cup in 2018 as Crew SC bow out in the fourth round for the second straight year. The focus now is squarely on Major League Soccer play, and the Black & Gold have an important one on Saturday at home against the New York Red Bulls.