The Fire will look to take the first step on the road to a fifth US Open Cup title tonight with a fourth round match against USL side Louisville City FC. Frank Yallop told reporters during his weekly conference call on Monday morning that he will likely field a mostly first choice line-up against the third division team. "We’ve got to win the game. It’s a tournament that this club really took serious and I’m taking it serious. The whole coaching staff, players, we want to get on the right track. We want to get a win, especially at home and get into the next round," said Yallop.
"It’s no different to any year. This is important. We’ve lost three games in a row now in our league. This is a cup competition but I look at the cup as the same as our league. We want to win every game we go into. We’re putting as much into this as all of the other games we’ve tried to win this season. No different. It’s a tournament that we want to do well in because it’s got history here. We’re desperate to do well. We want to win this first game but we want to do well in the whole tournament."
Shaun Maloney may be available on the bench depending on fatigue after travel following Scotland's 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland on Saturday. David Accam and Joevin Jones will not be available for selection however. According to Yallop, Mike Magee is still recovering from "slight hamstring" and Patrick Nyarko is "not quite ready" for a competitive match yet. The core group of players that started the last match in New England will likely be on the pitch tonight against Louisville. "The slight problem we have is that we played Saturday night with a depleted team and that group has to kind of go again because we don’t have the international guys back," said Yallop while indicating that he will field as strong a team as possible. "This is a very big game for us. We want to come out flying and get a big result against Louisville."
Chicago is still smarting from a 6-0 loss at the hands of the Seattle Sounders in last year's USOC semi-final but want a chance to at least advance to that stage again. "The club was hurt by that. I think we did pretty well to get into the semi-final, which is always a bonus. We were not ready to play that game and we got out asses handed to us in that match. It still stings but each year is different and each round is different. We’ve got to focus straight away on Louisville, beating them and then moving on and getting as far as we can. Obviously we want to win it, but talk is cheap. We could say we want to win the cup and then turn out and not play well and lose. Each game is important," said Yallop.
Time to step up
With the half way point in the season quickly approaching, the Fire are reaching a crossroad where another string of losses could push them into the desperation mode that has seen them attempt furious comebacks in the second half of the campaign only to fall short of qualifying for post season. The turnaround from a 4-8-2 start has to begin now and Yallop is aware of it. "Any time there’s bad results you look for a reason why and what for. Things change quickly. We played Orlando last week and they were below us. Now they just won two games in a row and they’re in a playoff position. As we know, things can change quickly, but....we’ve got to win. (There's) no better start than getting a good result in the Cup. If you can beat DC in the next game at home then you can start looking forward to the other games. Once we get to full strength I’m excited about the prospect of us doing well. In the meantime we’ve got to find a way to get results. Any time you don’t get results confidence starts to wane a bit. You go out and you don’t look like you’re going to win," he said.
Yallop feels that the Fire have played well enough to win in most recent games, with the possible exception of the New England match and the second half in DC, the team performances haven't been bad. "We’ve got to make sure that we’ve have the mindset that we feel that we can win games, and not get into the trap of hoping to win it. Going out and expecting to win, especially at home. Our next two games (are) at home, it’s very important to get two wins in those," he said.
The Fire are treating this match and the upcoming June 24 game against DC United as must-win contests. “We want to do well, not just in the Cup we want to get a win and get going again. It looks like we’re a little bit streaky. Lose three in a row and win three in a row. We haven’t done that since (the first six games of the season). The Montreal game was in the middle of a tough-ish stretch but we want to get on a good run where we play 6 or 7 games and you get at least four wins. Then you’re in the picture. I still feel sick from Saturday’s result and still feel that with all of our players together that we’re not that bad of a side but we’ve got to figure it out quick. Games slip by, other teams are playing each other and those points are going. We need to stop the bleeding and get going."
That all starts with winning at home. "Losing three in a row to conference opponents is not good. Two have been away but the one at home is the one where you’ve got to get maximum points. If you do well at home, like most (successful) teams do in our league, that’s where you get most of your maximum points and we didn’t do that," he acknowledged.
July window help?
With MLS' summer transfer window opening on July 8, the Fire will be looking for help but no moves are imminent just yet. “We’re forever looking. I’m trying to get the right balance to win games," said Yallop. "We’ve improved in our general play but obviously we’re not winning. We’re conceding tons of goals, which is never good for any team. It’s a thing that evolves, and you’ve got to stay with it and make sure that you’re picking the right guys to fill out in the areas where you feel you’re a little bit weak. We’re forever looking and whether there’s someone coming in the window, I have no idea. We’re going to attempt to try and change things in the window, like every club is. Whether it’s significant or not depends on who you can get."
The Fire currently have seven of eight international spots filled after the option on Victor Perez was not exercised. Clearing the cap/budget space required for a substantial move will require some work however.
Yallop said that Fire owner Andrew Hauptman is on the same page with the technical staff when it comes to the direction of the club and shares in the sentiment felt over another difficult start. “He’s frustrated. I speak to him very regular, if not at least every few days. I feel that he likes the look of the team and the way that we’re trying to play. Obviously results have not reflected the change in the way we’ve played. That’s always frustrating. It’s going to take a while to really get an idea, but we can’t have games slipping by and losing points. We’re undermanned a little bit, but still we should be able to go anywhere and get a result. New England is never easy to go to. DC is never easy. I think the Orlando game is the one that really sticks in my mind where we let points go after playing well enough to win the match. He’s frustrated as I am. He wants to win and that’s the reason he’s put money in and really pushing for us to do well. He’s one hundred percent with what we’re trying to do, but obviously results have not been good lately," he said.
A report out of Scotland suggested that Hauptman had increased the pressure to win recently in a quote attribute to Shaun Maloney. Yallop said that there has been no change in directive from ownership in recent weeks however. “I think he may have been misquoted because there’s no change. The push was made in January by Andrew to help the team out and inject a lot of money to help us. I haven’t spoken to Andrew or Shaun about it because the first thing I’ve heard about it was (today). It could have been (said) maybe months (ago) or at the start of the year.”
Fernandez back with the Fire
The Fire have recalled midfielder Collin Fernandez from loan at Louisville City FC. He will be available for selection by Yallop against the team that he currently plays for. Fernandez appeared in two matches last week. The decision to send him to Louisville rather than USL-affiliate Saint Louis FC had to do with how much time the homegrown player would see on the pitch. "He’ll be with us (for the USOC game) because of numbers. They didn’t really need that spot in Saint Louis and we didn’t want to play him out of position. We wanted to get him some minutes and get him some time in a position in a club that’s going to play him," explained Yallop.
Cochrane at left mid
Greg Cochrane got a start on the left side against New England but it was in midfield rather than at fullback, where he has appeared mostly while with the Fire. With options limited on the outside due to the absence of Accam and Jones this past weekend, Yallop gave Cochrane a look citing a search for balance in the side. "I thought Greg did fine in the game. That’s not the reason we lost. You’ve got a squad of players that you look at and you want to plug in here and there and I felt a little bit of pace (could help). He’s played there before in college and a little bit with the Galaxy. He’s mainly a left back but he has played a little bit of left side midfield. Just to kind of stretch the line a few times, which he kind of did a little bit in the first half. He didn’t get a chance to do much in the second half since he only played sixty minutes. In the end we were 2-0 down and I wanted to change it. I thought he did okay," he said.
Former Fire forward Matt Fondy returns to Toyota Park with Louisville City after spending the second half of last season with the Fire. "Matt’s a guy I liked in MLS in the limited time he got before he came to us. I thought he did well. He excels at the USL/NASL level for sure. He scores goals, he’s dangerous. He works hard. I was hoping it worked out that way for us with everything, but it didn’t. Maybe it wasn’t the best scenario last year with us but he’s done well with Louisville," said Yallop.