PEORIA, Ill. – Jalil Anibaba scored a stunning winner to give the Chicago Fire a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids in a US Open Cup play-in match at Bradley University’s Shea Stadium on Wednesday night.
The win moves Chicago to the final play-in round, where they will take on Portland or San Jose.
Gastón Puerari had given the Fire the lead just before half-time, while Colorado’s Andre Akpan equalized early in the second half.
Anibaba gave the Fire the lead for good in the 61st minute. The rookie right back collected a ball on the right wing, took a few touches and launched a speculative 40-yard shot that improbably beat Colorado 'keeper Ian Joyce to the near post. The goal was Anibaba’s first as a professional.
The defending MLS Cup champions came close to equalizing in the 69th minute. Midfielder Wells Thompson ran onto a through ball in the left side of the box and forced Fire 'keeper Sean Johnson into a fine diving save with an angled shot from 10 yards.
Colorado had another chance a minute later. Midfielder Sanna Nyassi was played behind the Fire defense but couldn’t slip past Johnson, who slid in and corralled the ball at the top of the box.
Nyassi had a second opportunity in the 86th minute. The Gambian interational had a good look at goal, but sailed his 20-yard half volley wide of the right post.
The match got off to a slow start and not much of note happened until Puerari put Chicago up 1-0 in the 45th minute. Forward Diego Cháves played Puerari into the left side of the box and the Uruguayan forward did the rest, taking a touch inside before slotting a low, right footed shot inside the far post from 15 yards.
Chicago didn’t hold their lead for long, as the Rapids came back through Akpan. The second-year forward equalized less than two minutes into the second half after collecting Quincy Amarikwa’s pass in the right side of the box and beating Johnson to the far post from 10 yards out.
Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos made just two changes to the squad that defeated Sporting Kansas City 3-2 in league play on Saturday. Rookie midfielder Davis Paul and newly acquired defender Yamith Cuesta were inserted into the lineup for injured center back Josip Mikulic and winger Marco Pappa, who is away on international duty.
Rapids manager Gary Smith took a bit of a different approach, making 10 changes to the lineup that beat Chivas USA last weekend. Amarikwa was the only holdover for the Rapids, who brought just 14 players to Peoria.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.