By Eric Crawford, WDRB Sports
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In one sense, the U.S. Open Cup has cost Louisville City FC some fitness, and maybe a win (possibly two) in USL play over the past month.

But in a larger sense, it has reinforced the notion that the club can play with franchises at the top level of the sport in the U.S.

Wednesday night at 8:30, it’ll get another chance at just that, when it faces the Major League Soccer Chicago Fire in the Open Cup quarterfinals at Toyota Park just outside Chicago. (The game will be televised by WMYO in Louisville.)

All four quarterfinals take place tonight, with Philadelphia and Orlando City at 7, Houston Dynamo and Sporting KC at 7:30 and Los Angeles FC facing Portland at 10:30 Eastern.

LouCity is the final non-MLS club left in the competition, coming off a 3-2 victory over the MLS New England Revolution on June 5 and a 2-1 win over Nashville SC on June 20.

But the team that takes the pitch tonight in Chicago has been through a great deal since that victory over Nashville less than a month ago. It has lost coach James O’Connor to the MLS, and a trio of players has stepped into the coaching void to try to keep moving the team forward despite some injuries.

Still, this same group of Louisville players set U.S. Open Cup success as a priority in the preseason. Despite what has gone before, it has a chance to make good that goal.

“It's huge that we've been able to make it this far, but at the beginning of the year we set out to make it this far,” player-coach Luke Spencer said. “So, it’s a positive that we can accomplish goals, and to be able to go out on a big stage and compete with Chicago Fire will definitely be a great opportunity, but it's one that we hope to win. Then hopefully use it as momentum moving forward.”

What kind of challenge is Louisville up against? The Fire advanced the quarterfinals with a pair of MLS road wins, and now return home for the first time in the tournament. In their home state of Illinois, they are 27-1-2 all-time in Cup competition.

The Fire have been to the Open Cup semifinals in each of the past six seasons and 11 of the past 17. They’ve won the event four times.

This year’s team is anchored around midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, former star of Bayern Munich and a veteran of 121 international appearances for the German National Team, including the 2014 World Cup champions. His six assists and three goals have helped feed a talented offense, led in scoring by midfielder Aleksandar Katai and striker Nemanja Nikolic, each with nine goals.

Chicago has been up-and-down in MLS competition, standing eighth in the 11-team Eastern Conference, and 4-5-2 at home.

“Chicago has a lot of talent on their team,” Spencer said. “They have Schweinsteiger, who is world class. They’ve got Katai out wide, he’s been on form recently. So, they have some dangerous pieces that we need to be worried about. . . . Another player is (midfielder) Dax McCarty who does work from end to end. He's relentless in the work that he does. But you know we're looking at our guys and what we can do. We're looking to have a strong mentality and strong showing ourselves.”

It’s not Louisville’s first trip to Chicago for a Cup game. When LouCity made the trip north in 2015, the game was tied 0-0 at the end of regulation and was just four minutes from heading to penalty kicks in extra time before Chicago got the game-winner in a fourth-round match.

”I think any time you get to go up against an MLS team and compare yourselves against them, it'll be a good indicator as to what level you're playing at, what level the guys are capable of playing at,” Spencer said.

As for how the triumvirate of coaches – as Spencer, Paolo Del Piccolo and George Davis IV are coming to be known – is faring in settling into the job, Spencer said things are beginning to feel more comfortable.

“It’s definitely different,” Spencer said. “But two weeks on, George, Paolo and I have ironed some things out in terms of who is going to be doing what, and we’re getting more efficient as time goes on.”

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