FC Cincinnati stuns Chicago Fire in U.S. Open Cup

Contributed photo/WCPO FC Cincinnati forward Kadeem Dacres controls the ball while Chicago Fire’s Jonathan Campbell pressures during their U.S. Open Cup match at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati Wednesday, June 28, 2017.
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Contributed photo/WCPO FC Cincinnati forward Kadeem Dacres controls the ball while Chicago Fire’s Jonathan Campbell pressures during their U.S. Open Cup match at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati Wednesday, June 28, 2017.

Mitch Hildebrandt played the game of his career just to keep FC Cincinnati alive through 120 minutes of play in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 game against Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire SC.

Then, he did the almost unthinkable.

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The FC Cincinnati goalkeeper made saves on three out of four penalty kicks to lift the second-year United Soccer League club to a 1-0 win against one of the hottest teams in MLS right now. The thrilling upset in front of a non-finals record crowd of 32,287 fans at Nippert Stadium sends FCC into the quarterfinals July 12 at Miami FC.

"This city is unbelievable and the team was absolutely unbelievable," Hildebrandt said. "The amount of work they put in for 120 minutes, I can't even fathom how they feel right now. That game was just amazing. Everybody in that locker room, not just the ones that play, deserve this and staff and fans and city."

The Fire, which rode a 10-game unbeaten streak into the game, had dominated possession most of the way, holding the ball for 70.5 percent of regulation, but FCC’s defense hung on for dear life to extend the match into extra time and eventually penalty kicks.

FC Cincinnati approached the game in the same way it did for the fourth-round win over Columbus Crew SC on June 14, sitting back on defense and attacking aggressively, moreso in the second half, with whatever opportunities came on offense.

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This time, the lucky second-half break just never came for the home side, which was missing star forward Djiby Fall because of an ankle injury suffered Saturday against St. Louis FC. Fall had scored the game-winning goals in each of FCC’s first three Cup games, all 1-0 decisions, and his injury wasn’t announced until an hour before kickoff.

Chicago started its top two players, forward Nemanja Nikolic and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, among a slew of other regulars. But even with the quality lineup, the Fire couldn’t sneak even the best opportunities past Hildebrandt and FCC’s defense, bolstered by the backline of Harrison Delbridge, Justin Hoyte and Austin Berry, as well as wingbacks Matt Bahner and Josu Currais.

Hildebrandt finished regulation with seven saves, including several impressive ones that ignited the “Mitch Says No” chants throughout the stadium. The fans grew louder as the game pressed on and as FCC grew more aggressive on both ends of the field.

FC Cincinnati almost ended the game in extra time when Andrew Wiedeman scored on a neat pass from Corben Bone in the 109th minute, but the sideline official had her flag up to signal offsides before the shot.

I'm proud of our team," FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch said. "It was awesome. It was a lot of fun. There were some moments against a very good team packed with a lot of big-time stars. I think the match, the little moments grew as the game went along. We threw ourselves into it, started creating opportunities and I think we could have gotten something in extra time and unfortunately didn't, but people stepped up in penalty kicks and here we are, on to the next round."

The electric crowd finally got to celebrate for real after Hildebrandt stopped the penalty kick of Chicago’s fourth kicker. The celebration rivaled that of two weeks ago when a crowd of 30,160 fans witnessed a 1-0 win in the fourth-round game against the Crew.