Austin FC Bounced From Open Cup By Chicago Fire

El Tree overcomes sloppy start, but goes scoreless in 0-2 loss

Austin FC was unceremoniously ushered out of the U.S. Open Cup Wednesday night, falling 0-2 in a Round-of-16 match against the Chicago Fire at Q2 Stadium. It was the first competitive match ever played between the two clubs, as well as Austin FC’s first chance to reach the final eight of North America’s oldest soccer tournament.

Despite head coach Josh Wolff opting for a first-choice lineup against a struggling Chicago team, the Verde and Black could not overcome a sluggish start marred by turnovers and poor set piece defense.

“There’s no avoiding what that looked like in the first 20 minutes,” Wolff said. “It looked leggy. It looked [like] a bit of sloppiness from a lot of guys, and it almost becomes contagious.”

Chicago found the opening goal in the 27th minute off a corner kick, as defender Rafael Czichos simply out-jumped his counterpart in Leo Väisänen and directed the ball inside the far post.

Viäsänen’s night only worsened from there, as he collapsed late in the first half with an apparent knee injury off a non-contact situation. He managed to remain in the game and finish out the half, but was substituted immediately after and did not participate in the second half. After the match, Wolff described it as “concerning.”

A much crisper, more dangerous Austin FC took the field for the second half, taking charge of the match and creating multiple scoring chances. But as has been the case throughout the 2023 season, the club was unable to reward its productive play with a goal.

Instead, Chicago scratched another tally on the board in the 77th minute, when Swiss international star Xherdan Shaqiri slipped in behind the ATX back line and fired a shot that Brad Stuver saved. But the rebound fell right back to Shaqiri’s feet, and the former Liverpool man served up a beautiful assist to striker Kacper Przybylko to secure the 2-0 victory and the place in the Open Cup quarterfinals.

“It’s disappointing,” Wolff lamented. “This was a competition we wanted to progress in.”

On the bright side, ATX is now closer to the end of a hellacious stretch of two matches per week which has spanned the entire month of May and will now conclude once the calendar flips to June. The club can now shift its entire focus to climbing the MLS Western Conference standings, starting with an in-state battle against the Houston Dynamo at PNC Stadium on Saturday.

For more Austin FC news and analysis, visit The Austin Chronicle's Austin FC hub. Follow “The Verde Report” columnist Eric Goodman on Twitter: @goodman.

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