The atmosphere at the Soccer Park in Fenton Wednesday night, keyed by the St. Louligans, was electric. And the soccer was just as entertaining.
For the record, the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer knocked off St. Louis FC 1-0 before a standing-room-only crowd of 5,786 in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
But this didn’t feel like a loss for the home club.
“Ever since I came here I’ve been telling these guys they have incredible quality; they just have to bring it every day,” STLFC coach Preki Radosavljevic said. “When we bring level of intensity, level of commitment, when we bring our ideas to the game, I think we’re a pretty good team. Time will tell if I’m wrong or right... I can’t say anything more but that I’m incredibly proud of our group tonight. We left everything on the field tonight.
“We were pretty good for 90 minutes, not just 10 or 15. This, for me, was the most complete game we’ve played this year, and we did it against a very quality opponent.”
A four-time Open Cup champion and a semifinalist in four of the last five seasons, Chicago came up with the game’s lone goal in the 27th minute on a highlight-reel goal from Luis Solignac. Running across the penalty area, away from the goal, Solignac ran onto a cross from Brandon Vincent and was able to back-heel the ball high in the air and to the far corner, just inside the goal post.
“That’s one of those goals you dream up,” STLFC’s Christian Volesky said. “If you give him 10 chances like that, I don’t know how many he’s going to score. But it went in and that’s all that matters.”
Preki added: “I would say lucky. That doesn’t happen too often. Credit to the guy...I’ll give him 50 balls right now and if he scores like that, I’ll give him... two dollars.”
Chicago coach Veljko Paunovic noted that Solignac has a flair for goals like that. “Luis scored his most difficult one tonight. He had some wonderful opportunities, but it seems like he likes to score difficult goals.
“We came in with a pretty good idea what to expect and came up with a great effort. Hats off to St. Louis, too. They pressed us at times and had their chances, too.”
STLFC started strong, earning a number of early corner kicks and creating some decent scoring chances. Less than two minutes in, STLFC’s Jose Angulo missed a chance to put the home team on top when he stole the ball from the last Chicago defender. But after dribbling around goalkeeper Matt Lampson, Angulo ran out of room along the end line.
On his team’s first real scoring threat, Chicago’s Juninho ripped a 22-yard free kick off the outside of the left goal post in the 14th minute.
After getting a pass from Angulo, Sebastian Dalgaard tested Lampson with a low shot. In the 22nd minute, after gaining control at the edge of the box, the Fire’s Michael De Leeuw whipped a shot past the far post. Nine or so minutes after Chicago went up, STLFC’s Dalgaard broke through on the left side but shot wide.
STLFC started strong again in the second half.
The Fire’s Arturo Alvarez beat his man with a diagonal run across the box in the 52nd minute, but STLFC defender A.J. Cochran slid across to block the shot.
In the 57th minute, Octavio Guzman bent a ball into the box, just out of the reach of Angulo’s sliding attempt.
STLFC’s best scoring chance of the match came in the 67th minute when Volesky made a lightning-quick turn after receiving a pass from Guzman at the edge of the box. Volesky broke in alone, but his shot from about 12 yards out went off the top of the cross bar.
Twelve or so minutes later, on a free kick from Emir Alihodzic, a diving header from STLFC’s Angulo was stopped by Fire keeper Lampson. STLFC played the last eight minutes a man down after Dragan Stojkov picked up his second yellow card.
“We didn’t win, but we come away with a lot of positives,” Volesky said. “The confidence alone, just seeing that we can play with a top team like that, is definitely something we can move forward with.”
“The atmosphere was incredible, just like I remembered,” said Chicago’s Drew Conner, who played for STLFC on loan from the Fire last year. “I let the guys know what to expect and it was everything we expected. We had to fight for it, but we got the result we needed.”
STLFC, which is 4-4-3 in United Soccer League action, will play its next two league matches on the road, playing at FC Cincinnati on June 24 and at the New York Red Bulls II on July 2. The 6 p.m. game from Cincinnati will be televised by KPLR Channel 11.
STLFC’s next game at Soccer Park will be July 5 against the Rochester Rhinos. That 7:30 p.m. game, originally slated for May 6, was postponed due to flooding along the Meramec River.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, STLFC honored O’Fallon, Mo. native Josh Sargent, a St. Louis Scott Gallagher Academy product who recently scored a team-leading four goals as the United State reached the quarterfinals of the Under-20 World Cup in North Korea.
At 17, Sargent is the youngest American to score a goal in the U-20 World Cup. He is the captain of the U.S. U-17 national team.