Chicago Fire vs. Indy Eleven: A Midwest Rivalry is Born

The Chicago Fire have won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (USOC) four times (1998, 2000, 2003, 2006) since joining Major League Soccer in 1998, and they’ve been the runner-up twice (2004, 2011). They’ve even been known as Kings of the Cup.

On Wednesday, Indy Eleven defeated Louisville City FC 2-1 to move onto the fourth round of the USOC play. This is their third appearance in the USOC tournament and their second time playing in the fourth round. This time around, Indy will meet the Chicago Fire on June 15 at Toyota Park.

Indy and Chicago have only met once before in a friendly match on April 1, 2014, where the Fire won 3-1. ¬†This made the Chicago Fire as inaugural champions of the Schlabst Cup – the Schlabst Cup was born due to Peter Wilt’s (more on Wilt below) invention of Schlabst, best known as Milwaukee’s black and tan – a combination of Schlitz beer and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Section 8 Chicago cheering the Chicago Fire on in the Fire’s first meeting with Indy Eleven in Indiana in 2014. Photo credit: Section 8 Chicago

It may not sound like these two teams have a lot in common, but they do.¬†Indy Eleven and Chicago Fire have several connections that make this matchup an exciting one. I asked a few key participants some questions about the upcoming matchup. Let’s take a look at what they had to say…

Peter Wilt:

Wilt was the beating heart of the Chicago Fire for countless years. Without him chances are the Fire would not exist today. ¬†Wilt was the first president and general manager of the Chicago Fire until 2005. In 2012, Wilt assisted in the implementation of a National American Soccer League (NASL) team in Indianapolis. The team became known as Indy Eleven, and similarly to Wilt’s role with the Fire, he became¬†President and General Manager of Indy’s NASL team, who played their official league game in 2014.


Peter Wilt after the 2006 USOC final game. Photo via:


How are you feeling about the Indy Eleven vs. Chicago Fire USOC match?

PW: I feel both excited and conflicted. I love the Open Cup tournament and to have the two participating teams that I care most about advance is wonderful. Having them play each other frankly is not so wonderful. I’m appreciative of the support fans are giving the matchup and I love the references to the Schlabst Cup as it honors the hybrid beer I created, but… it is going to be difficult watching one of the teams I support lose and not continue on in this knockout competition. I’m obviously more personally involved with this Indy Eleven squad, as I’ve hired every staff person and signed every player. There is only one member of the Fire team that I have a direct connection with and that’s assistant coach Logan Pause, who I drafted in 2003. That being said, the Fire badge, colors, and history continue to run through my veins. Even though they’re in different leagues it is great for Indy to finally have this geographic rivalry begin, because there are no NASL teams within easy driving distance.

What was your initial reaction when Indy won?

PW: My initial reaction was sheer joy that Indy remained undefeated this season and was advancing in the tournament. When it sunk in that the next round was against the Fire I was equally excited and trepidatious.

Will you be attending the match?

PW: I seriously considered not attending, but I know I have to be there.

Who will you be supporting?

PW: When I told Ante Razov I had traded him to Columbus a decade ago, he thanked me for his time at the Fire and promised me that if he ever scored a goal against Chicago, he would not celebrate. I respect him for that and I intend to use Ante as an example whichever way the game goes June 15.


Jon Busch:

Big Jon Busch, as most Fire fans like to call him, is a veteran goalkeeper on the soccer pitch. He’s made over 300 appearances in Major League Soccer – 75 were with the Fire, where he played from 2007-09 and¬†again in 2015. Earlier this year, Busch joined Indy Eleven and is demonstrating leadership there just as he did in Chicago.

Lovel Palmer:

Like Busch, Palmer previously played for the Chicago Fire (2014-15) before signing with Indy Eleven in 2016. In addition to playing for Chicago, Palmer has another connection to the Fire and that’s through Ring of Fire member CJ Brown¬†(Chicago Fire 1998-2010), who was Palmer’s assistant coach at Real Salt Lake in 2013. Brown recently visited Indianapolis in support of Indy Eleven in their match against Louisville¬†on Wednesday.

Palmer on the Indy Eleven vs. Chicago Fire matchup:

LP: I’m happy that we’ve set a date with the Fire, but mostly so I can get to see the fans that supported me through two tough years there than the actual game. ¬†I have nothing to prove to the Fire organization.

This experience in Indy has been great. It reminds me a lot of the 2013 team in Salt Lake. We have an amazing bunch of guys, a great locker room, and a club that put their players first.

One thing I know for a fact, I’ll have a great time with Section 8 and the fans as a whole at Toyota Park come June 15

Lovel Palmer was a fan favorite in Chicago and voted for Player of the Year in 2014. Photo via:


Tom Dunmore:

Dunmore was¬†an¬†integral¬†part of the continued development of Section 8¬†Chicago¬†(S8C), the Independent Supporters Association of the¬†Chicago¬†Fire. He served on S8C’s Board of Directors from 2009-11 (Vice Chair – 2009; Chairman 2010-11). Time certainly changes things, as Dunmore is now the senior vice-president of marketing & operations for Indy Eleven and has been serving in this role since 2012.

Tom Dunmore (top center) supporting the Chicago Fire on the road in 2008. Photo Credit: Frank Cardenas


How are you feeling about the Indy Eleven vs. Chicago Fire USOC match? 

TD: Excited! It’s Indy Eleven’s first competitive game versus the Fire, and for me personally, that brings together two teams that have been a major part of my life for more than a decade. To see them playing on the same pitch will be amazing.

What was your initial reaction when Indy defeated Louisville?

TD: Happiness. Indy Eleven struggled in the first half against Louisville, and I feared for the second year in a row, we might get knocked out of the cup by the same underdog. But our team spirit this year is so strong, coming back and winning that game to keep Indy Eleven’s season-long unbeaten streak was a tremendous feeling.

Will you be attending the match? How surreal is this experience for you?

TD: Uh, yes. It will be quite surreal. One of my children was born in Chicago and the other in Indy, so I’m thinking of dressing them appropriately in their hometown team colors. That might be a little much though.

John Koluder:

Koluder was formerly the Senior Manager of Media Relations for the Chicago Fire (2003-07). Koluder is now the Director of Public Relations for Indy Eleven.

How excited are you for the fourth round USOC match between Chicago and Indy?

JK: I was giddy at the prospect of Indy Eleven facing off against the Fire, and with last night’s result I am even more excited to see it become a reality. I still know a handful of people with Chicago and will look forward to reconnecting with them at Toyota Park on the 15th – but I know that we’ll certainly have different rooting interests that night.

My knowledge of and respect for the Open Cup began in Chicago because of Peter Wilt, and the four titles the Fire won while he was there was no fluke. They happened because of the emphasis the entire organization – and the fan base – put on the tournament. For those of us that have a history with both Indy Eleven and the Fire, the match in a couple of weeks will have a little more emotion to it. It’s something that could only come about as part of the Open Cup.

You don’t want to miss this fourth round USOC matchup!


Chicago Fire vs. Indy Eleven

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

7:30PM – Toyota Park

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