Amarikwa Finally Comes Through When Fire Need Him Most

Mike DiNovo – USA TODAY Sports

Mike DiNovo – USA TODAY Sports

When Quincy Amarikwa scored his first goal of the season Tuesday night, he spitefully attacked the corner flag as if it harmed his family and owed him large sums of money.

I felt a season’s worth of frustrations spill out of him, as he ripped the flag off throwing it down in a fury, and for a moment I was kind of scared for the people in the front row. And just as I thought, “Holy shit. Quincy is god damn scary when he wants to be, and he might have anger issues,” I realized how sorely this team needs a fighter.

In the words of manager Frank Yallop, Chicago was ‘sleepwalking’ through its fourth round match of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Tuesday night against Louisville City FC, a young team in its inaugural season from the USL. However, Amarikwa worked tirelessly as a starter and eventually broke a scoreless draw in the 116th minute of extra time to advance his side when it needed him most.

Many players on this team, and around the world for that matter, don’t play with the same chip on their shoulders, as Amarikwa seems to. That’s understandable to me, being someone who’s generally pretty calm. But even I understand that every team needs a few guys to get mad sometimes.

If I’m a striker and a team is denying me scoring chances, I’m taking that personally. If attackers are cutting through my defense, as they’ve done to Chicago’s recently, a lack of toughness is more to blame than anything. O.K., sometimes that’s not exactly true. Sometimes, you simply get outclassed, but a team that’s willing to battle for every inch plays with the mentality that nobody’s getting past them, especially in tournament play.

Amarikwa demonstrated this kind of fortitude and work ethic earning a late goal in dramatic fashion. Manager Frank Yallop told reporters post-match that he challenged Amarikwa’s resilience at halftime, and Amarikwa seemed to answer the skipper’s call. He seized a crucial opportunity to show Yallop he belongs in the starting 11, or at least has a vital role to play for this club.

He wasn’t the only one given this opportunity. Jason Johnson got his first start with the Fire on Tuesday night after adding a spark of energy off the bench in Saturday’s loss to New England. Coach Yallop told reporters that Johnson proved he deserved a chance, and I thought he did well enough as a starter. However, it would have been nice to see him get the ball more. Often times throughout the match, he and fellow striker Amarikwa were simply not being fed the ball in front of goal, hence the 0-0 tie through 90 minutes of play.

Even though Amarikwa stole headlines with the late dramatics, Chris Ritter was my man of the match for the Fire. Also given a rare opportunity in the starting lineup, the second-year midfielder out of Northwestern made a strong case for more minutes in the future. He made tough tackles all night as a holding midfielder, and I can’t remember ever catching him out of position, as several players often were during the first half.

Shaun Maloney helped shape up the midfield when he was subbed in at halftime. The designated player just returned from international duty, where he performed well for his native Scotland in the Euro qualifiers. Being available for Frank Yallop on Tuesday, I’m sure it was difficult to resist starting the Scotsman. But I was surprised to see him in the match so early given that he’s just returned from over seas and likely exhausted from his recent playing and travels. Sure enough, the game went for 120 minutes, and Maloney was forced to leave in the second period of extra time with back spasms.

That could be very bad news for a side currently plagued by injuries and call-ups. Chicago’s still waiting for the return of impact players David Accam and Joevin Jones from international duty. Meanwhile, the Fire faithful patiently await the return of injured players Mike Magee – who’s seen minutes recently, but yet to regain full strength – and Patrick Nyarko.

On to the fifth round

It took 120 minutes to defeat Louisville City F.C., a team facing its first ever MLS opponent on Tuesday, and whose senior player is 25-years-old. But Chicago’s B team was good enough to defeat a gritty Louisville side and advance the club to the next round of the cup.

Having hoisted the Lamar Hunt USOC trophy 4 times before, the Fire have a strong history in this tournament. Tuesday’s win gives the club a 37-12-4 all-time open cup record. After making it to the semi-final last year, the team can now continue its push for the cup in 2015.

The Fire, along with the rest of the remaining field, will learn their opponents on Thursday when U.S. Soccer will host a fifth round draw, which will be streamed live on ussoccer.com. The Fire will take a break from league play this weekend, but host D.C. United for an MLS match at Toyota Park on Wednesday, June 24 at 7:30 p.m. CDT. (CSN Chicago)