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In what could be considered arguably the biggest “cupset” of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, FC Cincinnati continued their miracle run with a win over the Chicago Fire of MLS, winning 3-1 in penalties after 120 minutes of 0-0 action. Most of the honors will go to Cincy goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, as all 26 shots fired by the Fire, 10 of which were on goal, were parried or stopped by the 2016 USL Goalkeeper of the Year. His efforts were seen by a national audience, thanks to ESPN’s coverage of the 5th-round game.
The entire first half of the game was a wait-and-see approach by Chicago, controlling the ball and forcing Cincinnati onto their heels. With most of the action taking place in their defensive third, FC Cincinnati’s back line was forced to deflect shots out for corner kicks. The highlight clearance came at the 16th minute when a juicy cross by Bastien Schweinsteiger found Juninho, only for the misdirect to be narrowly cleared off the line by Matt Bahner.
The second half started with more of the same pressure put on Hildebrandt, who had to make three sprawling saves within a 20-minute span. However, once FC Cincinnati started to slide in their substitutes, the pace of the game changed dramatically. Jimmy McLaughlin and Corben Bone came in and began to take advantage of the Chicago press, intercepting in the middle and sprinting ahead of the tiring Chicago defense. Both were denied scoring opportunities in stoppage time, only to be turned away by goalkeeper Matt Lampson and a questionable non-call in the Chicago box.
Extra time saw some point-blank saves by both keepers, as action ran from goal line to goal line. An early extra-time substitution almost paid dividends, as Andrew Wiedeman’s intense 109’ goal celebration was cut short with an offsides call. That chance was followed by more fingertip saves by Hildebrandt, and a late near-post save by Lampson.
With all the time played with no resolution, Hildebrandt outperformed Lampson in penalty kicks, letting in only one shot to Lampson’s three. After watching Hildebrandt deflect Juninho’s final attempt, the bouncing Nippert crowd erupted in cheers and blue-orange smoke while the team dog-piled on the hero of the day in excitement.
This win marks the furthest a USL team has made it into the U.S. Open Cup tournament since then-USL Orlando City upset Colorado and Kansas City to make it into the quarterfinals in 2013. FC Cincinnati now travels to play NASL division-leaders Miami FC on July 12th, as Miami upset MLS’s Atlanta United with their own late-game heroics, advancing on a 3-2 win after a 93rd minute goal by Kwadwo Poku. This matchup guarantees a D2 team in the USOC semifinals for the first time since the Richmond Kickers did it in 2011.
Match Changing Moment
Mitch Hildebrandt’s first PK save on Chicago’s Nemanja Nicolic. After Aodhan Quinn had skied FCC’s first PK attempt, Hildebrandt slapped the MLS scoring leader’s shot away to the left with a sprawling save. Had it not been for this play, FCC could have been forced to come from behind for the win. Instead, Josu, Harrison Delbridge, and McLaughlin calmly stepped up to bury their shots, while Mitch said “No!” two more times against Arturo Alvarez and Juninho.
Four Numbers That Mattered
18-7 – The advantage Chicago had in corner kicks. While FCC managed to adjust and make more ventures into the Chicago box in the second half, most of the possession belonged to Chicago, who held a 70-30 advantage over the entire game. Chicago received the first 9 CKs of the game, only for the FCC D-line to bend and not break. Outside of the possession and corner kick battle, Cincinnati managed to keep it close in shots (20 to 26), shots on goal (7 to 10), and fouls (13 to 14).
66’ – The minute that Jimmy McLaughlin came on to substitute for Eric Stevenson. With Cincinnati struggling to keep consistent possession during the game, McLaughlin was subbed on to give a spark on the edge. McLaughlin immediately stretched the field with his speed, matching König for most attempts on goal (5).
499 – Number of minutes since the last time FC Cincinnati conceded a goal in U.S. Open Cup play. Ever since the 11th minute in the loss at Tampa Bay June 1st of last year, the combination of Hildebrandt and backup Dallas Jaye have completely shut down the opposition over the four games this year (three 1-0 wins and the 0-0 result vs. Chicago). All of Hildebrandt’s 10 saves came in the second half and extra time, not including those stellar three blocks in PK time.
32,287 – People packing the Nippert Stadium stands. This goes without saying. The crowd once again flooded the seats and stayed rocking throughout the game. FC Cincinnati and Chicago played in front of the second-largest modern-day U.S. Open Cup crowd ever, bested only by the 35,615 who witnessed the 2011 U.S. Open Cup final, in which Chicago also lost (this time to Seattle).
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and the 2017 season.