The wide play of George Davis IV and Oscar Jimenez will be one key if Louisville is to upset the Chicago Fire on Wednesday night. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
CHICAGO – Louisville City FC has the chance to become the third lower-division club to reach the Semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup this decade on Wednesday night (8:30 p.m. ET | Match Center) when it visits the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in the second meeting between the clubs in the historic tournament. Louisville is aiming to emulate the Richmond Kickers in 2011 and FC Cincinnati a season ago in being one of the final four teams standing in the competition.
After its victories in the previous two rounds against the New England Revolution and fellow USL side Nashville SC to reach the Quarterfinals for the first time, here are three keys to watch for as Louisville looks to gain revenge on the Fire for the extra time defeat it suffered three seasons ago when the sides first met in the tournament.
Louisville’s back line has been strong against aerial attacks this season, with the center back duo of Sean Totsch and Paco Craig both in the Top 15 in the league in Aerials Won this season for the side. Overall, Louisville has won more than 50 percent of its Aerial Duels overall, and both winning those battles and earning possession from them through players like Speedy Williams – who ranks sixth in the league among outfield players with 140 recoveries – and Paolo DelPiccolo could help the visitors keep the ball away from the dangerous Chicago midfield led by former German international Bastian Schweinsteiger.
“Chicago has a lot of talent on their team,” said Louisville player-coach Luke Spencer. “You they have Schweinsteiger, who is, you know, world class. They’ve got [Aleksandar] Katai out wide, he’s been on form recently. So, they have some dangerous pieces that we need to be worried about.”
With the way Louisville plays in its current 3-4-3 setup, there’s the potential for the visitors to cause Chicago problems defensively on what has looked to be one of the weaknesses for a side that has conceded 41 goals in 21 regular-season games in Major League Soccer this season. Louisville’s willingness to try and get in behind defenses has been a successful proposition for opponents against the Fire, and with Kyle Smith (311) and Oscar Jimenez (272) both in the top 20 in the league in passes that end in the final third both could play a key role out wide in helping Louisville continue its run in the tournament.
“It's huge that we've been able to make it this far, but at the beginning of the year we set out to make it this far,” said Spencer. “So, it’s a positive that we can accomplish goals, and to be able to go out on a big stage and compete with Chicago Fire, will definitely be a great opportunity, but it's one that we hope to win.”
For a team as well-drilled as Louisville has been defensively, the fact that the side has conceded four goals inside the opening 15 minutes of a half in four of its last six games in the league – including this past Saturday in a 2-1 loss to the Charleston Battery – is slightly surprising, and that will come into focus even more sharply against a Chicago side that has fared best when it has scored first this season, posting a 6-0-2 record when it gets the opening goal of the game. By contrast, the Fire are 0-10-3 when they concede first this season in Major League Soccer, making the opening goal of the game a very important one if Louisville is going to spring a surprise on the road.
“Conceding in the first five minutes is never something you want to do,” said Spencer. “And so, we're talking about just starting a game with real focus and real intensity. That’s something that we need to do moving forward.”