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20 May 1:37 pm

Select shots from the Chicago Fire Rec Soccer league Final at Toyota Park on Sunday

20 May 9:23 am

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. 

17 May 8:09 am

The Fire head to Philadelphia on Saturday night to take on the Union for the second time in seven days (Coverage begins 6pm CT on My50). The Men in Red dropped a heart breaker 1-0 at home last week despite creating a number of chances. Philly played LA at home at midweek and lost 4-1 after a second half defensive collapse. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Rolfe and Nyarko up top – repeat the first half of last week

In the first half against the Union at Toyota Park last week Patrick Nyarko terrorized the Philly defense, running at them with pace and creating a number of opportunities.

Rolfe and Nyarko combined well and were very close to each other on the pitch. The movement of the pair dragged the Philly center backs out leaving massive pockets of space in behind for the Fire to exploit.

WATCH: Nyarko, Berry Preview Philly

This happened on a number of occasions and NBC analyst Kyle Martino pointed it out over and over again on the broadcast.

In the second half however, the duo were too far apart and then Rolfe was moved out wide later. It goes without saying they’ll need to play closer together on Saturday.

When Rolfe and Nyarko force the center backs out of position, players like Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere need to do a better job of tucking in and taking advantage of that space, something the team didn’t do enough of last week.

Philly were unable to deal with the pace of Nyarko last week and the Fire should look to get the ball to the Ghanaian as much as possible again Saturday.

Kleberson – keeping an eye on the “unknown” Brazilian

In Philly’s game against the Galaxy Wednesday night the Union gave a first start to Kleberson in midfield. In the first half, LA was unable to deal with his movement and defense-splitting passes.

Kleberson got forward constantly to help out Jack McInerney and Sebastian Le Toux in the attack and was allowed two or three shots from just outside the box. He also dropped deep and found the strikers with some brilliant through balls.

In the second half, LA was a lot tighter on the Brazilian and he was less effective. Though he may not be fit enough to play the entire 90 minutes against the Fire, I would expect him to start after his excellent full debut against LA.

Logan Pause and either Daniel Paladini or Jeff Larentowicz must track Kleberson's runs and be wary of balls played in behind. Logan did a fantastic job of cutting out through balls in last weekend’s match and the Fire will need a similar effort from the captain on Saturday, especially if Kleberson gets the start.

Focusing on Philly’s left side – opportunities for Duka and Thompson

I spoke last week about the weaknesses of Philly defender Raymon Gaddis who filled in on the right for the suspended Sheanon Williams last weekend. Against LA on Wednesday night, Gaddis returned to left back and was again caught too far forward on a number of occasions.

On the one hand, Gaddis and Keon Daniel combine very well in the attack and are certainly a threat but both players fail to track back defensively when the Union turns the ball over.

On a number of occasions on Wednesday night Bakary Soumare had to come over to almost the left wing to cover for Gaddis who was nowhere to be found. LA took full advantage of this, attacking down Gaddis’ side for most of the match.

Against Philly last weekend, right back Wells Thompson looked somewhat reluctant to come forward despite the fact that Dilly Duka was constantly coming inside and leaving space for Wells to run into. Both Thompson and Duka should be looking to attack Gaddis at every opportunity on Saturday night.

Prediction: 3-1 Fire with goals from Nyarko, Rolfe and Lindpere

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.

15 May 4:50 pm

In case you missed it, I had the opportunity to serve as a witness for today's Third Round U.S. Open Cup draw at Soccer House in Chicago.

I detailed the interesting tidbits of how the draw is done but in case you don't want to nerd out, just check out the potential third round matchups below...

HOME TEAMS LISTED FIRST

#1 Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL-Pro) vs. Philadelphia Union -or- Philadelphia Union vs. Ocean City Nor'easters

#2 Richmond Kickers (USL-Pro) vs. D.C. United -or- D.C. United vs. Icon FC (USASA)

#3 Rochester Rhinos (USL-Pro) vs. New England Revolution -or- New England Revolution vs. GPS Portland Phoenix (USL PDL)

#4 Charlotte Eagles (USL-Pro) vs. Chicago Fire -or- Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders U-23 (USL PDL)

#5 Orlando City Lions (USL-Pro) vs. Colorado Rapids -or- Colorado Rapids vs. Ocala Stampede (USL PDL)

#6 Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) / Laredo Heat (USL PDL) vs. FC Dallas

#7 Charleston Battery (USL-Pro) / Portland Timbers U-23 vs. San Jose Earthquakes

#8 Sporting KC vs. Minnesota United FC (NASL) - Des Moines Menace (USL PDL) / Madison 56ers (NPSL)

#9 Real Salt Lake vs. Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL) / Georgia Revolution (USASA)

#10 LA Blues (USL-Pro) / Ventura County Fusion (USL PDL)  vs. Chivas USA

#11 Carolina Rail Hawks (NASL) / Carolina Dynamo (USL PDL) vs. LA Galaxy

#12 Columbus Crew vs. Dayton Dutch Lions (USL-Pro) / Dearborn SC (USASA) winner

#13 New York Red Bulls  vs. Harrisburg City Islanders (USL-Pro) / Reading United (USL PDL) winner 

#14 San Antonio Scorpions (NASL) / FC Tucson (USL PDL vs. Houston Dynamo

#15 Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) vs. Seattle Sounders FC -or- Seattle Sounders vs. VSI Tampa Bay (USL-Pro)

#16 Portland Timbers vs. Wilmington Hammerheads (USL-Pro) / Austin Aztex (USL PDL)

14 May 12:07 pm

Saturday was rough. You could almost feel the sucker punch coming, and it still hurt. Bad. There were a few interesting moments in the game but I couldn’t stop thinking about the wind. It’s one of the identifying characteristics of footy that you play in basically any condition, and it affects the way you play, the way you think about playing, and, obviously the results.
 
For all its stripped down, no pads, anyone-can-play humanity, the NBA is sterile in this regard. Every court is exactly the same and predictable (unless you have a bad shooting night, then you can blame the stadium’s depth perception, or lighting problems). Football has to play in weather, but they ruin the fun by putting Super Bowls in safe weather cities. Baseball has to play in weather too, but they cancel games if anyone gets mud on their shoes.
 
No, soccer has to deal with the elements in every way, from bee attacks to snow to pitch problems to wind.
 
Saturday against Philly began as a perfect example. The wind was strong enough to blow the froth off your beer. I saw a garbage can at Toyota Park get blown over and almost tumble down an aisle. Meanwhile, Philly could hardly get the ball in the air, and when they did, the wind held it up like the perfect alley oop. Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba were able to measure the long balls up easily and win them consistently, even over Connor Casey.
 
But as the game developed, it was interesting because the wind didn’t seem to influence the game as much as it could have. It was irritating for the players (I’ve never seen Gonzalo Segares overhit so many crosses), and definitely a factor (it made Sean Johnson look like superman, I swear he could’ve kicked a goal kick into a bags game on the Party Deck in the first half if he wanted to), but it wasn’t the storyline.
 
Anibaba and Berry kept winning headers off goal kicks and clearances going both directions, and neither team were obviously playing out of the back on the ground the way teams do when they’re avoiding long balls into the wind. It seemed like a stalemate between the wind and the two sides. If only the wind could’ve pushed Patrick Nyarko's second half chance just an inch or two left, we’d be here sipping champagne joking about the wind, but we got sucker punched.
 
Let’s take the funny with the tragic, here. The Fire were clearly robbed of three points, and the good news is that there’s plenty of time to recover these lost points. The Rolfe/Nyarko partnership is promising, the weather’s getting better, and at the end of the season we’ll look back at plays like this one from Anibaba and laugh.

13 May 10:19 am

Our Team for the World partner Club America took a big step towards their first domestic title since 2005, defeating Pumas UNAM 2-1 in the second leg of the Liga MX Clasura quarterfinals on Saturday at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. 

Heading into the match, America already held a 1-0 aggregate lead after Raul Jimenez struck in the 28th minute of the first leg on Wednesday.

Pumas pulled the series level by virtue of Robin Ramirez' classy one-time volley past Moises Munoz in the 21st minute.

Club America would re-take the lead as Ecuadorian international Christian Benitez finished from close range following a redirected shot in the 56th minute.

With the hosts already looking like they'd advance, Benitez put the final nail in the coffin deep into second half stoppage time, beating Pumas 'keeper Miguel Palacios inside the post to clinch a 3-1 aggregate victory.

With the win, Club America moves on to the Liga MX Clasura semifinals and will vist Montrerrey in Wednesday's first leg before welcoming los Rayados to the Azteca for leg two Saturday night.

The Chicago Fire face Club America in an international friendly on Saturday, July 10 at Toyota Park.

Purchase tickets here!

09 May 1:46 pm

If you follow him on Twitter or Instagram, you'll know Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini is a social butterfly.

Instead of talking to him in 140 characters, why not join him live for a Google+ Hangout Friday afternoon?

Daniel will begin taking your questions at 12:15pm CT but you can begin asking him questions for the chance to win

- 2 FREE Premier tickets to Saturday's match vs. Philadelphia Union

- 2 FREE tickets to next Thursday's Art of Futbol event

- A team-signed Chicago Fire ball.

Submit your questions in the comments section below, on our Facebook or Google+ pages, or by tweeting #AskPaladini!

08 May 3:02 pm

The soccer world was stopped in its tracks Wednesday as legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson announced this season would be his last.

I got the reaction to the news from the Fire’s resident United supporters, Patrick Nyarko and Brendan King earlier Wednesday.

Patrick Nyarko…

“I actually heard this morning before training. I had a moment. Then I had a moment to think. It’s just sad. I know it’s the right time but sometimes as the speculation has kept on going you start to think it’s never going to happen. You think he’s going to be there until he dies.

“I guess he’s made his decision it’s just a tough one because he’s simply irreplaceable. He’s given the club so much and as he said he left the club in the best possible state.

"I’m curious to see who the next manager is going to be. I’m sure whoever it is he’ll take after Sir Alex. He can’t be him but he can follow the tradition and apply his philosophies to keep the club at a top-level.

“I’d absolutely be alright with the next guy being David Moyes. That guy’s demeanor and his success with Everton with a smaller budget make me feel he’d be successful at United. I think he’s a player’s coach, every player he’s had plays hard for him.

“To go to a bigger club like Manchester United, he’ll have a lot more flexibility and I think he’d be really successful. I’d vouch for him and I hope the United faithful would be behind him.”

Brendan King…

“It’s a sad day. I woke up and checked my Twitter – that’s how I found out. You knew at some point it had to come to an end.

"It’s pretty sad but at the same time it’s great to celebrate what he’s achieved. I grew up a United fan and he’s the only manager I’ve known there.

“Sir Alex is such an iconic figure around Old Trafford and in the English game and he’ll forever be the greatest manager there. It’ll be pretty weird to see someone else sitting where he was – I don’t know if they’ll be chewing gum or not but it’ll be sad to see someone else step in.”

08 May 2:15 pm

After a scoreless 120 minutes, the Fire’s Team for the World alliance partner Internacional (Brazil) needed a shoot-out to edge Juventude 4-3 on Sunday, May 5 to clinch the Rio Grande do Sul state championship.

Inter played the same starting 11 for the third straight match in the final as former Brazilian international and national team coach Dunga clinched his first title with the club. 

As the winner of the first stage, the Piratini Cup, another tourney title in the Farroupilha Cup meant that they clinched the State championship. In the standard format the two winners face each other.

Internacional now moves on to open up the national Campeanato Brasileiro Saturday, May 25 against Vitoria.

The top four finishers from that competitoin qualify for the Copa Libertadores, the top club competition in South America.  

Congratulations to Sport Club Internacional from the Chicago Fire!