The Fire’s summer friendly opponents and Team for the World alliance partners Club America took a further step to their first domestic crown since 2005, defeating Monterrey 2-1 (and 4-3 on aggregate) in leg two of the Liga MX semifinals Saturday night at the Estadio Azteca.
In leg one last Wednesday, Ecuadorian international Christian Benitez continued his exploits from the weekend’s 2-1 victory over Pumas UNAM, scoring both goals in the team’s 2-2 draw at Monterrey.
That result set the stage for Saturday’s match, which saw America take the advantage just after the hour mark. In the 62nd minute, Aguilas midfielder Ruben Sambueza was brought down on the right side of the area by Monterrey defender Leobardo Lopez, forcing referee Jorge Antonio Perez to point to the spot.
A minute later, Aguilas striker Raul Jimenez placed his effort past Jonathan Orozco into the lower left netting to give America a 1-0 lead and 3-2 aggregate advantage.
The home side pretty much iced the series 19 minutes later after a Monterrey giveaway at midfield. Jimenez and Benitez quickly broke out in a give and go before the Ecuadorian was slipped into the box and finished past Ibarra for the 2-0 lead and 4-2 advantage.
The goal was Benitez’ fifth in four playoff matches.
Los Rayados pushed late and pulled one back deep into second half stoppage time. Substitute Guillermo Madrigal settled in the box, turned and forced a diving stop out of Moises Munoz before striker Aldo de Nigris finished from close range.
The goal to the aggregate score to 4-3 but the referee blew the whistle soon after, advancing America to the Liga MX Clasura finals against Cruz Azul.
Leg one of the finals will be played at Estadio Azul in Mexico City on Thursday with the return leg at Estadio Azteca on Sunday.
The Chicago Fire take on Club America in an international friendly on Wednesday, July 10 at Toyota Park.
Atletico de Madrid takes Copa del Rey title
Atletico Madrid over came a 25-match winless run against city rivals Real Madrid and a 1-0 deficit to win the Copa del Rey 2-1 in extra time at the Santiago Bernabeu on Friday night.
Real Madrid took the early lead when Cristiano Ronaldo rose above the rest to head home a corner kick in the 14th minute.
Atletico would respond 21 minutes later when Radamel Falcao did yeoman's work at midfield before springing Diego Costa between two Madrid defenders. The Brazilian fired from the top of the penalty area and beating 'keeper Diego Lopez inside the left post.
You could see Real Madrid begin to come undone in the 75th minute when manager Jose Mourinho was sent off for leaving the technical area to argue a play.
Fifteen minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo kicked Atletico defender Juanfran but the offense went unnoticed and the teams went to extra time level at 1-1.
Atletico would find the game-winner off a corner. Koke's take from the right was headed straight back to him but he whipped in another ball which found the head of Brazilian defender MIranda to beat Diego Lopez inside the near post.
The wheels came off for Real Madrid when Ronaldo was sent off following a scuffle at midfield in the 115th minute.
Shortly thereafter the referee blew the whistle, confirming Atletico's 2-1 triumph. The victory gave the club its 10th Copa del Rey title and first since 1996.
Was nice to wake up to this news this morning that U.S. international and current Aston Villa first-choice 'keeper Brad Guzan would like to return to MLS one day and potentially suit up for his hometown Chicago Fire.
A product of Homer Glen, Ill., Guzan was quoted as saying, "Hopefully, I will get the opportunity, when I’m finished playing in Europe, to go back and play in it.
"Especially being from Chicago, which has a team. I’d love to go back and play for the Chicago Fire in front of friends and family. That would be pretty neat.”
Guzan of course teamed with current Fire forward Chris Rolfe on the Chicago Fire PDL side that went a near perfect 17-1-0 en route to the league's regular season championship that year.
Having played two seasons at the University of South Carolina, Guzan left college to sign with MLS and was picked second overall by Chivas USA in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft.
At just 28 years old and with the Fire having a 'keeper in Sean Johnson who is nipping at his heels for the number two spot with the U.S., Guzan won't likely return stateside anytime soon but would likely be a welcome addition for many a Fire fan down the road...
Alvaro Fernandez made his 12th cap and first appearance for Uruguay since November 2011, coming on as a substitute in la Celeste’s 4-1 loss against Bolivia in the high climbs of La Paz Tuesday night. Already down 4-0 by the time he entered the match for Diego Forlan in the 65th minute, Uruguay would pull a goal back through Liverpool striker Luis Suarez’s 80th minute free kick.
The loss extends Uruguay’s winless run in qualifying to four matches, with the sole point in that time coming in the team’s 1-1 home draw against Ecuador last month. Even with the slump Uruguay sits in fifth place playoff spot, tied with Venezuela and Chile on 12 points after nine matches played.
Fernandez will hope to be back in the squad when CONMEBOL qualifying resumes with a home match against Paraguay on March 22.
Flaco will return to Chicago tonight and is expected to be available for the Fire’s match Saturday at New England.
With only one Chicago Fire player away on international duty, this could have been a very short international wrap.
Taking a different angle, my aim is to show the international nature of the current roster by recapping how all of the first team player’s national sides did in World Cup qualification Friday night…
Uruguay – Called back to Uruguay for the first time in a while, midfielder Alvaro Fernandez was an unused sub, watching from the sidelines as a Lionel Messi brace led Argentina to a 3-0 win over La Celeste in Mendoza.
Flaco and Uruguay remain in fourth place in CONMEBOL qualification and will hope to rebound on Tuesday when they travel to La Paz for a match against second from bottom Bolivia.
USA – The Fire’s American contingent might have been biting their finger nails much of Friday night as Juergen Klinsmann’s side eeked out a late 2-1 victory at Antigua & Barbuda. Making his first national team appearance since 2010, forward Eddie Johnson nodded the U.S. ahead in the 20th minute before Antigua’s Dexter Blackstock equalized five minutes later.
With the U.S. looking disjointed for much of the second half, Johnson would reward Klinsmann’s confidence in him by heading home U.S. debutant Alan Gordon’s 90th minute cross to give the American’s a 2-1 win.
That victory combined with Guatemala’s 2-1 win over Jamaica (in which former Fire midfielder Marco Pappa played 68 minutes) means the Americans and los Chapines sit tied on 10 points and need only a draw against each other on Tuesday for both teams to advance to next year’s final round hexagonal.
Costa Rica – In the Group B rubber match, Fire defender Gonzalo Segares got an early birthday present as Jose Cubero’s 31st minute goal stood to give Costa Rica a valuable 1-0 victory away to El Salvador.
With the win, los Ticos return to San Jose needing only to defeat a lowly Guyana side that has taken just one point from five matches in order to advance.\. Costa Rica defeated Guyana 4-0 during their earlier group game played in Georgetown.
Mexico – Already qualified for the final round, Pavel Pardo and Guillermo Franco might have looked on Friday night to see Javier Hernandez, Oribe Peralta, Andrew Guardado and Angel Reyna strike to help Mexico batter Guyana 5-0 in Houston.
They’ll close out the semifinal round Tuesday night against El Salvador in Torreon.
The Netherlands – Former Dutch youth international Sherjill MacDonald may or may not have watched as Rafael Van der Vaart, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Reuben Schaken eased the Dutch to a 3-0 victory over Andorra in Rotterdam.
The victory keeps Holland with a perfect nine points through three matches in UEFA’s Group D ahead of the team’s visit to also perfect Romania Tuesday in Bucharest.
Germany – Arne Friedrich was probably grinning from ear to ear Friday afternoon as Die Mannschaft demolished the Republic of Ireland 6-1 in Dublin. Germany got braces from Marco Reus and Toni Kroos as well as single strikes from Miroslav Klose and Mesut Oezil in the win.
Sitting alone atop Group C with a perfect 9 points from three matches, the Germans return to face second-place Sweden in Berlin on Tuesday.
Italy – Paolo Tornaghi’s Azzuri had a little trouble in the first half but eventually overpowered Armenia 3-1 in Yerevan. Andrea Pirlo put the Italians ahead with an 11th minute penalty before Henrigh Mkhitaryan equalized in the 28th, taking the teams into the break at 1-1.
Italy would respond with two goals in the second half through Daniele De Rossi (64’) and Pablo Osvaldo (82’) to earn the three road points.
The victory keeps the Italians on top of UEFA Group B with seven points ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Denmark in Milan.
Poland 1-1 Greece • June 8, 2012
The first match of the 2012 Euros featured Greece taking on hosts Poland in Warsaw. Polish Borussia Dortmund star Robert Lewandowski wasted no time getting the first goal of the tournament hammering down a cross from Jakub Błaszczykowski with his head. Although it would be difficult to top the bizarre opening ceremony, the referee did his best to become the focal point in the match due to several controversial calls, which were later described by some Greek supporters as “ridiculopoulous.”
Greek Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a debatable red card for a push and the Greeks headed into halftime down a man and down a goal. At this point, I like to imagine that Greek captain Gorgios Karagounis gave a rousing locker-room speech reminding his men of Spartan King Leonidas from the film 300; “No retreat, no surrender!”
With this call to arms, his men responded though a goal from Dimitris Salpingidis to even the battle. Later, the match reached its apex following Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny’s foul to give a penalty to Greece. Replacement goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń made a diving save to keep the score tied at 1-1 with ten men on each side.
Ultimately, the result of this exciting inaugural match felt fair as both sides headed home with a point.
Russia 4-1 Czech Republic • June 8, 2012
Russia got on the board quickly with a goal from Alan Dzagoev in the 14th minute. Soon after, play was stopped due to a flare thrown on the field, used as a sort of makeshift firework celebration. On Sunday, the Russian Football Federation warned its fans to “Respect yourself, your home, and your team.” Despite the interruption, Russia would continue to score fairly consistently throughout the match with later goals from Roman Shirokov, Dzagoev, and Roman Pavlyuchenko.
The Czech Republic was not silent though, with a lone goal from Vaclav Pilar. The high-scoring affair ended a superb first day of action in a group that was predicted to be lackluster.
As analyst Alexi Lalas has pointed out, the fascination of Group A comes from the idea that each team in the group truly has the belief that they can advance.
Netherlands 0-1 Denmark • June 9, 2012
Group B’s first goal came from Denmark with a nutmeg from Michael Krohn-Dehli in the 24th minute. Krohn-Dehli has been marked in the media as a possible star of the tournament and could have transfer offers to leave his current side, Brøndby IF.
In the 88th minute, Denmark’s Lars Jacobsen contacted the ball twice with his arm in the box, but the referee controversially let play continue. The Netherlands would end the match with 28 shots to Denmark’s eight. Ultimately, the Oranje suffered the first upset of the tournament due to failure to finish chances.
Germany 1-0 Portugal • June 9, 2012
The second match on Friday featured the first meeting of giants, with Die Mannschaft facing off against Os Navegadores. Portugal set themselves up to absorb pressure for the majority of the match, in a Chelsea-esque manner.
In the 72nd minute, German Mario Gómez leapt into the air, heading down a cross from Khedira into goal. It should be noted that the cross actually deflected off of the back of a Portuguese player before making its way into the box.
Nonetheless, Germany capitalized on a created chance. In the end, it was all that they would need to assert early dominance in the tournament.
Spain 1-1 Italy • June 10, 2012
Saturday’s matches in the “Group of Debt” began with Spain and Italy, the last two World Cup champions. The feared Chelsea goal scorer Fernando Torres began this match starting in his natural position, on the bench. Meanwhile, much of the commentator’s attention throughout the game was directed at the holy terror Mario Balotelli. The Manchester City villain highlighted his performance on a breakaway where he choked by simply failing to kick the ball. Personally, I believe that he was trying to think of a fancy way to get by the goalkeeper and was unable to choose which trick on FIFA 12 he was going to try.
Luckily for the Italians, Balotelli’s ineptitude was negated by Andrea Pirlo’s class performance. His searing passes and assist on Antonio Di Natale’s 61st minute goal were truly enjoyable to take in. Spain would not be outdone, however, responding three minutes later with a typical passing display that led to a slotted goal by Cesc Fábregas.
After the match, Spanish players complained to the media that the conditions of the playing surface made their usual, quick passing impossible.
According to Xavi, “It was super dry and that makes passing the ball difficult.” Talk about first-world problems.
Republic of Ireland 1-3 Croatia • June 10, 2012
Saturday’s battles between failing economies continued as the Boys in Green tried to hold their own against the Vatreni (that’s “The Blazers,” for any non-Croats out there). I’ll forego the generic witty headline about the “bad luck of the Irish” and instead remember the tried and true virtue...you create your own luck in life.
The Irish failed to defend well, allowing goals that were softer than my new kitten. At some points it was difficult to differentiate whether Ireland was bad or if Croatia was good. Croatia’s goals came courtesy of Mario Mandzukic (3’, 48’) and Nikica Jelavic (43’).
Ireland did get a goal from Sean St. Ledger in the 19th minute, but certainly fell to a stronger side. That being said, some of my Irish friends insist that their side was just using this match to lull Italy and Spain into a false sense of security.
We're all soccerphyles in this office so the kickoff of Euro 2012 tomorrow has a lot of people excited. Having said that, most of us don't have a first-generation tie to any of the 16 teams that will play over the next month in Poland and Ukraine.
The Solution? Do a European Championships office pool! Earlier this week, our own curtain raiser for Euro 2012 was held in the break room at Toyota Park where 16 members of staff drew at random the team they'll be pulling for beginning tomorrow.
Some of the draw results and reactions in photo form...
Chicago Fire Juniors Manager Brian Roberts, the Portuguese Leprechaun...
Marketing intern Mario Gonzalez offends Germans everywhere...
Communications Coordinator Eunice Kim smiles with her choice of Holland...
Director of First Team Operations Ron Stern pulls Poland...
Communications Director Brendan Hannan shouts, "ALLEZ LES BLEUS!"
Operations Specialist Erin Kwiatkowski doesn't seem pleased about her choice of Russia
Erin seems happy for Season Ticket Services Rep Neil Desmond's choice of Croatia
Director of Player Personnel Mike Jeffries pulls Greece... Frank Klopas rejoices!
With the last pick out of the hat, I drew co-hosting nation UKRAINE! Lets just say I'm hopeful the hosts can pull a Denmark '92 or Greece 2004.
The complete draw whipped up by our Creative Services Manager, Kayser dos Reis... Enjoy the Euros everyone!