Sides with a past

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.”

Get more of Fire Team Writer Jeff Crandall's updates and insights about the Chicago Fire by following him on Twitter @JefeCrandall