Sides with a past

Morelia returns to Chicago Wednesday night

When the Chicago Fire welcome Mexican side Monarcas Morelia
to Toyota Park Wednesday night, they’ll be saying hello to a club with which
they have a prior past.

The Mexican Premiera Division and MLS sides had their first meetings
over a two-leg aggregate series in the 2002 CONCACAF Champions Cup
quarterfinals. As hosts in the first leg on June 30, the Mexican side ran away
2-0 winners with Carlos Morales and Alex Fernandes scoring nine minutes apart
in the second half.

The return leg at Cardinal Stadium in Naperville early on
looked to be a walk in the park for Morelia with Antonio Gonzalez’s 41st
minute goal taking La Monarquia into the half up 3-0 on aggregate. Young Fire
midfielder Dema Kovalenko responded with two second half strikes within the
space of five minutes but it didn’t prove to be enough as the visitors ran away
with a 3-2 aggregate score line.

Following that series of matches, the two clubs entered into
a sort of sister-team partnership which saw the Fire dawn a Morelia themed Red
and Gold jersey at  times during
the 2004 season.

Eight years on from their meetings, the Fire welcome
Monarcas Morelia back to Chicago Land Wednesday night as part of both club’s
2010 SuperLiga opening matches. The 2010 edition is the second appearance for
both clubs in the SuperLiga tournament with Morelia falling out during the
group stage during the inaugural edition in 2007 and the Fire finishing as
runners up and falling 4-3 on penalty kicks to Tigres UANL in last year’s final.

Among Morelia’s top talents on display will be Mexican
internationals Jaime Lozano and Miguel Sabah. Most U.S. Men’s National Team
fans will remember the later from his 82nd minute winner in Mexico’s
2-1 World Cup Qualifying victory over the United States last August at the
Azteca in Mexico City.

Though not the same level of that match, Sabah is ready to
play Wednesday night in what he perceives to be an important competition.

“SuperLiga is a very good tournament,” said Sabah following
Monday’s training at Toyota Park. “On Wednesday against the Chicago Fire, we
hope to be well-prepared and warmed up for the match and to continue on the
path that Monarcas has been on -- play good football and try to win the games.
We always have that mentality but it is important to go step by step since we
are getting into preseason.”

Sabah has earned a prolific goal scoring reputation in a
decade-long career that has seen the Cancun native rack up 60 goals in 190
matches played for for C.D. Guadalajara and Cruz Azul. In January 2009, Sabah
joined Monarcas and has continued his goal scoring record, tallying 26 goals in
46 matches as he helped the side to the semifinals of the 2010 Torneo
Bicentenario.

Sabah credits Morelia Technical Director Tomas Boy’s tactics
for a lot of the clubs success in the past and looks forward to seeing how the
team comes together with some of the more recent acquisitions
“The players that have recently joined the team come with a lot of experience
and play great soccer. It will compliment the kind of team that Monarcas has.
Tomas (Tomas Boy Espinosa) has emphasized keeping control of the ball and being
compact on the field. We’ll continue to look towards going to the next level
and reaching the finals.”

 A former
midfielder, Boy spent his entire club career with Tigres UANL from 1975-88,
playing in over 400 matches and scoring 98 goals in that time. Wednesday night
the Monarcas boss will shake hands with a familiar friend in Fire head coach
Carlos de los Cobos – his teammate on the 1986 Mexican team that went to the
World Cup quarterfinals.

The two share a special moment in history from their
country’s Round of 16 victory over Bulgaria in that tournament. With el Tri leading 2-0, Mexico head coach
Bora Milutinovic substituted Boy, the attacking #10 for de los Cobos, the
rugged defender in order to kill off the match in the 79th minute.
The strategy worked as the game ended 2-0 and Mexico advanced to the
aforementioned quarterfinal.

Boy is looking forward to Wednesday night’s meeting with his
former teammate’s American club.

“MLS teams and players play very well,” said Boy. “During
the World Cup the U.S. made a great exhibition and played effectively. I can
say MLS is dynamic, rhythmic, and competitive soccer. Wednesday night is a good
opportunity to see how Carlito’s team operates and I wish him the best going
into the match.”

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