“You’ve earned the right to be here.”
That was Chicago House head coach Matt Poland’s message to his side in the locker room before they took on Forward Madison in the Second Round of the 2023 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Poland’s side didn’t give up when they were down a goal to Fort Wayne SC in stoppage time in the second round of Qualifying. And they didn’t give up when they were down 1-0 in the 79th minute after making the longest journey of all the teams in the final round of that same Qualifying campaign. So you better believe being down two goals in Madison was not going to keep Chicago House from the Third Round Proper of the Open Cup.
It started out as much of the same for Chicago House, as Forward Madison controlled most of the early portions of the match. The hosts managed the first goal of the contest in the 19th minute when Jayden Onen’s shot beat House’s Tony Halterman, giving Madison the early 1-0 lead.
The hosts continued to control play as the halftime whistle blew with the USL League One side not allowing Chicago House to generate a single shot on target. Poland’s message to his amateur players, down a goal and struggling, in the locker room at the half was positive.
“It was just more focusing on ourselves,” said the young coach – still just 30. “They didn’t do anything that was surprising to us. It was what we game-planned for, obviously we just made some mistakes. It was just ‘focus on us. We will get chances. And when those opportunities come, just finish them.’ And I think the guys had the trust and they were ready for the moment.
Hole Deepening for Chicago House
The second half started much like the first, capped off by Tino Vasquez’s goal in the 49th minute that gave Madison the 2-0 lead and, seemingly, a commanding vantage. It was beginning to look bleak for Chicago House as time wound down, but that’s when the Midwest Premier League side sprang to life.The comeback started with a Forward Madison turnover in the midfield in the 75th minute. Chicago’s Ricardo Avalos intercepted a Madison pass inside the ‘Mingo’s own half and immediately turned and found forward Adam Mann in the center of the pitch. Mann took a few touches before unleashing a strike that beat Madison’s Bernd Schipmann and cut the lead to 2-1.
After the fourth official had announced that there would be at least five minutes of stoppage time in the second half, House began what many thought would be their final attack. However, Chicago’s captain AR Smith – a native of the city’s South Side – wouldn’t allow the match to end there.
He collected a pass in the second minute of stoppage time right at the top of the Madison penalty area. Smith managed to create space despite being hounded by two Madison defenders and did enough to get himself the space to release a right-footed strike into the corner of the net, leveling the contest at two deep in second-half stoppage time.
Smith was anything but surprised about the chance he was able to create for the equalizer.
Clawing Back from the Brink
“In the first half I had a couple of chances 1v1 with that ball bouncing up like that,” said Smith on the field after the match. “And I kinda noticed that the defenders weren’t stepping. So I know if I put the ball into a space that's between me and the man, it’s me versus the man not me versus the ball. And I just happened to get to the ball before him and I put it away.”
Madison had a few half-chances before the end of regulation but it wasn’t enough to prevent the match from going to extra-time.
Madison’s best chance before the whistle to end regulation came in the 94th minute. First a strike from Isidro Martinez from the top of the box forced House’s outstanding Tony Halterman into a tip-save that bounced off the crossbar. The immediate rebound chance was right there for Madison to take the lead, but Halterman fully extended himself to stop the attack.
“I pride myself on having some quick reflexes and putting myself in the right position at the right time,” said Halterman bout the saves – his second match-saving double-stop in Chicago House’s first go-round in the Open Cup. “I couldn’t do it without these guys in front of me. They give me the confidence to do what I do and I hope I project that form onto them.”
Both sides had chances in the first period of extra-time, going back and forth without really testing either keeper. That remained the case until AR Smith's magic moment after 102 minutes of play.
Caption for a Reason
Naz Kabbani intercepted a Madison pass in his own half before finding Nico Williams as he was making a run down the left side. Williams worked his way into the penalty area and got around Madison’s Mitchell Osmond before finding substitute Alejandro Metasi in the middle of the box.
Mentasi’s strike was blocked but fell perfectly to the feet of Smith. The skipper took a touch and then sent a left-footed effort past the keeper, giving House the 3-2 lead after 103 minutes of play.
“It’s experience,” said Smith. “It’s composure. It’s being in those positions time and time again. So when that ball comes at my feet it’s trying to stay as composed as possible, as calm as possible. Pick my head up and pick a spot and put it away.”
Madison did all they could to find an equalizer in the second half of extra-time as Chicago House parked the bus defensively – clearing the ball down the pitch every chance they had.
And just like that, the referee blew the final whistle on one of the biggest Cupsets so far in this 2023 Open Cup. And Chicago House’s celebrations began in earnest.
“A massive win,” said Poland. “The guys just fought. And that’s the thing, credit to them. We don’t always look the best, which frustrates me as a coach, as a tactical coach. But as a coach of young men that are fighting for professional contracts, you can’t ask for more heart than they gave today.”
“So I’m just incredibly proud of the team,” added the coach, who likely turned a few heads himself with the result. “The fans were awesome and it’s just wild. It’s just wild.”Well Chicago House, you definitely earned the right to be in Madison. And now you’ve earned the right to take on Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire in the next round of the Open Cup.