Major League Soccer

Ezra Hendrickson calls out Chicago Fire players after Union Omaha US Open Cup loss

Chris Smith
Hendrickson pulled no punches in his post-match comments.
Hendrickson pulled no punches in his post-match comments. / Quinn Harris/GettyImages

The Chicago Fire made unwanted history on Tuesday, becoming the first-ever MLS side to be knocked out of the US Open Cup by a USL League One team.

The 108-year-old competition returned this week for the first time since 2019 after a two-year hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, with MLS teams finally pitted against their lower league opponents.

The likes of Inter Miami, DC United, and the LA Galaxy made it through unscathed. But along with the Columbus Crew - who lost 2-1 away at Detroit City - the Fire were stung, going out on penalties at home to Union Omaha after a 2-2 draw.

Much progress has been made by the Fire at the start of this season, but safe to say head coach Ezra Hendrickson was far from impressed by this showing.

“Frankly, I'm p***ed off because the team that we're trying to build here – and it doesn't matter who's on the pitch – I don't think tonight we displayed Chicago Fire soccer,” Hendrickson said after the match.

“It was just not intense enough. We didn't play fast enough and I felt like we were too casual on the night. We warned these guys that, when you play a team like this from a lower division, they feel like they have a lot to prove. They're gonna come, they're gonna bring intensity, they're gonna bring the effort and we have to match that. And I don't think that we did that tonight.”

The Fire had more than enough chances on the night to wrap up the match, but it took two penalties from Rafael Czichos to twice put the MLS team in front. Both times, Chicago let the lead slip, most painfully in the second minute of added time in the second half of extra-time - substitute defender Alex Touche was the hero for Omaha, sending the match into a shootout.

Hendrickson was left scratching his head at the wastefulness of his side.

“We created so many chances, especially in the first half, to put this team away and we didn't,” he said. “It took us two penalty kicks in the run of play to stay in the game with this team, which it shouldn't have been like that. So, I'm very disappointed with the way we showed up tonight and how we performed and that will not happen again."

More than anything, Hendrickson believes Omaha were just mentally stronger than the Fire on the night, wanting progression to the next round more than his own players.

“This is gonna hurt. It's gonna hurt for a while because I feel like we are the better team and we should be going on,” he said, adding: “But they didn't come here and lay down tonight. No, they came here and fought because they wanted to go through.

“The mentality was just not there tonight and I'm very upset about that. Because one of the things that we want to do here is always, always play hard and play with the right attitude, play with the right discipline. And we didn't display that tonight and I'm very, very upset about that."