Frank Klopas, Fire looking to make more U.S. Open Cup history

The Fire are proud of their U.S. Open Cup pedigree, but as they look ahead to a Tuesday quarterfinal, the franchise is trying to reverse a recent slide in the competition.

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Frank Klopas won the U.S. Open Cup as a player and is trying to do the same as a coach.

Frank Klopas won the U.S. Open Cup as a player and is trying to do the same as a coach.

Courtesy of the Fire

With good reason, the Fire are proud of their U.S. Open Cup pedigree. They’ve won the tournament four times, including in their inaugural 1998 season as part of their league/cup double.

But as they look ahead to their quarterfinal Tuesday against the Houston Dynamo, the Fire are trying to reverse a recent slide in the competition. Since they last won the event in 2006, the Open Cup has been the stage for some embarrassing moments.

Their home loss in a 2013 semifinal to MLS cellar dweller D.C. United led to the infamous editorial “What it means to be part of the Fire family,” a profane screed posted on the team website that drove a wedge between the club and its fans. Four years later, the Fire looked like one of the best teams in American soccer but fell at then-lower division Cincinnati in a shootout, kick-starting a disappointing second half of the season. In 2019, the club fell in the fourth round at second-tier Saint Louis FC, and after the game, homegrown star Djordje Mihailovic was captured on video swearing at a Fire fan.

Most recently, the tournament punished the Fire last year when they played a young and weakened lineup and lost at home to third-tier Union Omaha at Soldier Field. After that defeat, there were questions about how much the Fire were prioritizing a tournament that is such a part of their heritage.

Now with Frank Klopas in charge, there are no questions.

Klopas’ first game after replacing Ezra Hendrickson was the Fire’s 2-1 win against St. Louis City that put them in the last 16. Before that game, Klopas showed his players a 45-second video about the team’s Open Cup history. The video ended with “2023,” making clear what Klopas wants out of this year’s tourney.

“I told the guys, the journey has started already,” Klopas said after that game. “This is the second game. I said, ‘Hey, let’s make history and lift one together with the Cup.’ ’’

Klopas contributed to that history, scoring the tournament-winning goal in 1998. Twenty-five years later, he’s on a staff with fellow Cup-winning teammates C.J. Brown and Zach Thornton, trying to deliver the Fire’s first trophy in 17 years.

The run in the Open Cup also has been positive for a team that struggled so much to begin the season that its coach was fired.

“I think as far as our statement and the group’s emotional well-being, it’s very, very important,” midfielder Jairo Torres said after their 2-0 victory over Austin FC to reach the quarterfinals. “It’s a plus for the team.”

Nobody knows better than Klopas how much of a positive the Open Cup can be. He made that clear the day he was introduced as Hendrickson’s replacement.

“I want to do the best job that I can, and I want to try to help the team reach its goal, which is to be in the playoffs and continue to do so, but try to win an Open Cup, another one with this team,” Klopas said. “That would be an incredible accomplishment with some guys that have played together to be able to be on the staff together and to be able to raise a trophy, that would be incredible.”

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