Fire learn U.S. Open Cup draw

Fire learn U.S. Open Cup draw

The Chicago Fire will start its 2017 U.S. Open Cup campaign on the road.

The Fire learned their draw for the fourth round of the knockout tournament, which includes minor league and amateur teams as well as the 19 American Major League Soccer teams. The draw was made and coin flips took place to decide host teams on Thursday.

The Fire will play the winner of the third round match between Saint Louis FC and the Michigan Bucks, which will be played in Michigan on May 31.

Either potential matchup has some intrigue to it. Saint Louis FC is a minor league team in the USL which was the Fire's affiliate last year.

If the Michigan Bucks win, it means a return to Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac where the Fire lost to the Bucks in the 2012 edition of the U.S. Open Cup. The arena infamously resembles a warehouse more than a soccer stadium.

The Bucks play in the PDL, which is a summer amateur league for college players.

The Fire aren't the only Chicago team in the tournament. FC United, another PDL team, has won two matches to get this far, including a second-round win on Wednesday against USL side Pittsburgh Riverhounds. FC United will play an adult league team, Christos FC in the third round.

There are a number of intrastate matches and rivals paired for the fourth round, even if the all-Chicago match won't be one of them. There are four intrastate matches in the third round and a pair of MLS rivalries coming in the fourth round (New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC and Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers).

The fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup is set for June 14.

The Fire have won the U.S. Open Cup four times and have lost in the semifinal round each of the past four years.

Tough tests in next two months should show a lot about Fire

Tough tests in next two months should show a lot about Fire

Things are looking as good as they have in many years for the Chicago Fire.

The Fire have won three games in a row, something the club has done just one other time dating back to 2014. The team’s 6-3-3 record has it sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference after missing the playoffs each of the last four years and six of the last seven.

A deeper look shows the team’s schedule so far has paved the way for this positive start and current hot stretch. The Fire’s 12 games have featured just four games against teams currently in playoffs spots, which 12 of the league’s 22 teams qualify for.

The Fire are 5-1-2 against the teams currently in the bottom 10 of the league and 1-2-1 in those four games against playoff teams. The win and the draw against teams in playoff spots both came against Columbus.

Half of the Fire’s six wins, including each of the last two, so far have come against teams in the bottom four of the league standings (Real Salt Lake, Colorado, D.C.). Of the seven teams with 14 points of fewer currently, the Fire have played six of those teams (throw in a win against Seattle, a draw against Montreal and a draw at LA onto the three aforementioned teams).

So what does this mean?

It doesn’t necessarily mean the Fire are going to come crashing down to earth, but it does mean that the Fire have consistently beaten bad teams like a good team is supposed to do. Last year (or probably even the past few years) that wasn’t the case so in that way it’s marked improvement.

It also means that tougher tests are ahead. The first one is Thursday against FC Dallas, which won last year’s U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield and was the last undefeated team in MLS before losing to San Jose on Saturday.

Including the Dallas game, seven of the Fire’s next nine are against teams in playoff spots. Five of those games are against teams among the top seven records in MLS (Dallas, Orlando twice, Kansas City, New York City FC).

May 25 vs. Dallas (5-1-4, 19 points)

June 4 at Orlando (6-4-2, 20 points)

June 10 vs. Atlanta (4-4-3, 15 points)

June 17 vs. New England (4-4-4, 16 points)

June 24 vs. Orlando (6-4-2, 20 points)

July 1 vs. Vancouver (5-5-1, 16 points)

July 5 at Portland (5-4-3, 18 points)

July 22 at New York City FC (6-4-2, 20 points)

July 29 at Kansas City (6-3-4, 22 points)

The Fire have proven to be a much improved team this year and one that figures to be in contention for a playoff spot all year. The next two months should go a long way towards showing just how improved the Fire are.

Fire get three in MLS Team of the Week

Fire get three in MLS Team of the Week

Win games and you will have players make the Team of the Week.

The Chicago Fire have won three in a row, all coming within an eight-day span, and as a result have players all over the latest MLS Team of the Week. The Week 12 collection of players counts the Fire's wins against Colorado and D.C.

Nemanja Nikolic, who scored twice against Colorado, was included for the second week in a row. He currently leads MLS with 10 goals.

Nikolic was joined by teammate Brandon Vincent, who assisted Nikolic's first goal against Colorado and helped the Fire's defense earn a pair of shutouts. Veljko Paunovic was named as the coach of the team after the Fire's two wins.

David Accam, who scored a goal each against Colorado and D.C., was on the bench.