It’s the 81st minute in a 2014 U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal where the Atlanta Silverbacks and visiting Chicago Fire are locked 1-1 and staring 30 minutes of extra time straight in the face.
The combination of both sides being down to 10 men following a midfield confrontation around the half-hour mark and a muggy Atlanta night would dissuade either side from wanting to play any additional time.
It’s the perfect scenario for an unlikely hero to step up, and that’s when new Chicago Fire forward Matt Fondy identified himself. Signed just four days prior to the match, the former Chivas USA, Los Angeles Blues and Pittsburgh Riverhounds forward picked up a loose ball at the top of the area and powerfully strolled toward goal before being chopped down just outside the six yard box.
Referee Edvin Jurisevic pointed to the spot and Fire captain Jeff Larentowicz confidently slotted his penalty kick effort straight up the middle to give the Windy City side the go-ahead goal.
“That was great,” Fondy recalled. “I think most players can relate, but at the professional level moving from team to team, sometimes it’s hard to integrate, especially being halfway through the season already. It was great to get out to a good start and make an impact off the bench.”
“That was a big moment,” remembered Larentowicz. “After the game I remember thinking that this new guy has come on and made a difference.”
Captain Jeff Larentowicz and the Chicago Fire are looking to make a run in this year's tournament after a disappointing loss to Seattle in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup semifinals.
One more late goal put the game on ice, and the Fire advanced to the club’s 10th U.S. Open Cup semifinal (a Modern Era record), but as the season went on there were few similar moments for Fondy and the Fire. The team went on to break Major League Soccer’s record for draws (18) and finished outside of the MLS Cup playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
Perhaps the biggest dagger came in a road semifinal at Seattle Sounders FC where the Fire were routed 6-0 – the most lopsided defeat in club history.
In an effort to rebuild, Fondy was one of 15 players that left the team in the offseason, going on to sign with new USL side Louisville City FC. On Tuesday, the 25-year-old forward will return to Toyota Park as the Fire host City in the U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round.
“I’m definitely excited to come back and see the guys I played with,” Fondy said. “You become friends with people when you play, and I’m looking forward to playing against my former teammates and competing. I think that after my time with Chivas USA and the Fire I wanted to go to a team where I could have an impact and fight for a championship. Whether that’s Open Cup or the league, competing at that level and being an integral part of the team is most important at this point in my career.”
One of the more experienced players on the Louisville City roster, Fondy has captained the side that currently sits fourth in the USL’s Eastern Conference, and leads the team in goals with six and two assists in 12 matches.
Matt Fondy has found a staring role with Louisville City this season, bagging six goals and two assists in 12 games.
And Larentowicz has kept tabs on his former teammate.
“What I’ve heard from the other guys that are playing with our affiliate in Saint Louis that just played Louisville or Mike Magee that just went down there and played against them, he’s definitely one of their top players and top scorers,” said the Fire captain. “He showed coming on last year in Atlanta that he can be a handful and I’m sure he’s going to be doing the same things on Tuesday.”
As for the four-time champion Fire, the side begins the 2015 U.S. Open Cup with the same goal they’ve had every year since 2006, equaling Bethlehem Steel’s and Maccabi Los Angeles’ tournament record of five titles. Before they get there, putting the 6-0 semifinal drubbing at the hands of fellow four-time champs Sounders FC behind them will be important.
The club was hurt by that. I think we did pretty well to get into the semifinal. We were not ready to play that game and got our asses handed to us in that match. - Fire head coach Frank Yallop
“Our team has changed a lot since that game,” Larentowicz added. “For those of us that were here for it, it’s our job to make sure we get it across to the new guys and make it right. Everybody knows the last couple years we’ve come close to getting to the final and have come up short. Tuesday is when it begins and we need to be focused on the task ahead.”
Both Chicago and Louisville face short turnarounds with matching 2-0 league defeats coming against the New England Revolution and Rochester Rhinos, respectively, on Saturday. While Yallop said Monday he’ll put out “as strong a lineup as possible”, he also confirmed he’ll be without winger David Accam and Joevin Jones who are away on international duty, while Magee, who recently returned after a long injury layoff, will also be unavailable after tweaking his hamstring last week.
With the race to five U.S. Open Cup titles now tighter than ever between the Fire and Sounders FC, Larentowicz said there’s no question that his team won’t be taking Louisville City – or any opponent – lightly as they aim to lift the cup once again in 2015.
“It’s a mentality. You’ve seen in the past what our Open Cup runs have done for us as well. I think we’ve started the last two seasons poorly and reached this point in the year, taking these games seriously and done well in these games. It’s done good things for us going back to the MLS season. Beyond all that, it’s the mentality to go out and win games – it doesn’t matter who you’re playing. It’s a difficult tournament, it’s one where you’re going to have to go on the road to win a game or two to win. It takes a winning mentality.”
Ever wondered what a day in the life of a U.S. Women’s National Team player is like? We followed WNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris to get an inside look at a day inside WNT training camp, a day that included a weight session and on-field practice.
After a grabbing a quick coffee, the busy day starts early for Harris and the WNT, as they are headed to a weight lifting, the first of two trainings sessions that day.
“The bus ride is always total shenanigans with the people I sit around with. Usually that group is Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe and Ali Krieger. It’s just fun and good vibes heading into our workout.”
First stop of the day: weightlifting. The WNT usually spends about 90 minutes at the gym, and each player has a specialized workout sheet that is tailored to their needs.
“At lifting I usually spend time on my shoulders and continue to strengthen my back; things I need as goalkeeper. Every day I hit the ground, so I have to make sure my arms are strong. Shoulder strength and shoulder stability are key to make sure my arms are moving well and to prevent any injuries.”
As the team exits the gym, several fans await them by the bus and most players, including Harris, stop to sign a few autographs and pose for a few selfies.
“It’s always just really cool to stop and have a chat with the younger generation after or before training sessions. They’re just awesome.”
“Our van leaves the hotel about 45 minutes before the field players whenever we go to the training. I always have a pre-training and pre-game routine of taping my fingers and hands. It’s a personal preference and to be honest, I’ve always done it. Being at training earlier helps us get some good stretching in, stay focused and it allows us to nail down techniques and work individually and collectively as a small group before we jump in with everyone else.”
For afternoon training, Harris, along with Alyssa Naeher and Jane Campbell, as well as goalkeeper coach Graeme Abel, all pile into a team van and head to training earlier than the field players to spend some time working on their technique and specific areas before the rest of the team arrives.
“Alyssa and I have very good communication and no one has a better view or can critique one another better than each other. If we see something we tell each other and help each other out.”
After training, the players all cool down, chat with each other, hydrate and reflect on the session they just completed.
“We tend to immediately grab our protein shakes. We talk about the day, what we saw on the field, what we can fix, what wasn’t good, what was good and we just overall critique the game in every way we can to become better.”
“Once we’re back in the hotel, it’s all about treatment. Like true professionals, we must take care of our bodies and be responsible to get the treatment we need. Our bodies take a beating from all the impact at training so we take care of it to do it all over again the day after.”