After managing to win three straight games in all competitions and whipping the Fire faithful into a state of mild delirium, the Men in Red went right back to their old ways in dropping a 2-0 away contest to an underwhelming San Jose Earthquakes side. The loss has basically shut the window on any hopes of an appearance in the 2011 MLS playoffs (How many times have we said that this year already?)
The Fire won't have much time to feel sorry for themselves as they host their second high-profile friendly of the season this Wednesday against Chivas de Guadalajara.
The match was officially announced back in July without a whole lot of fanfare, which was probably due at least in part to the Manchester United friendly being right around the corner as well as disappointment with the Fire's on-field performance. But there was also a more intriguing subplot that whirled around Fire message boards among other places.
The last time the Fire hosted a Mexican club at Toyota Club was last July against UNAM Pumas in their last group match of the 2010 Superliga. The Fire won that match 1-0, which wasn't enough for them to advance to the knockout round. But perhaps more intriguing than the match up on the field was the action in the stands.
I feel like I should point out that this is not meant to disparage Mexican clubs or their fans. At least a couple of fights broke out during the Manchester United friendly as well. I would argue that when teams from different countries face off, the games take on a certain nationalistic tone and it only takes a couple of idiots to create a violent atmosphere for all.
It should also be noted that adding to the nationalistic tone is the fact that Chivas has historically fielded an all-Mexican team. While that in itself should not be any reason for concern, the friendly is shaping up to be a very partisan affair, which is something that former Fire GM Peter Wilt sees as a positive.
"The atmosphere for Chivas games in Chicago is always electric", said Wilt. "Having so many fans of the visiting team in the stadium elevates the passion and pride of the home fans much like a Cubs vs. White Sox game."
Tom Dunmore, President of Section 8 Chicago has said the club and the supporters' section will be doing everything possible to avoid an incident reminiscent of the Pumas match-up.
"There is always a challenge for major international games at Toyota Park given the unusual situation that most of the stadium will be filled with away fans" said Dunmore. "Section 8 Chicago has been working closely with the Fire and Monterrey Security to prepare for the game and there will be additional mutually agreed security measures in place to ensure Section 8 is for Fire fans only and that will hopefully allow supporters to simply enjoy the game."
Chivas are currently in first place in Mexico's Primera Division's standings with 17 points from their first 8 games. They came from behind to salvage an away point with Santos Laguna this past Saturday and will be back in Mexican league action this upcoming Saturday at home against Puebla. Despite their fixture congestion, Chivas will likely start a full-strength Starting XI and give their reserves more opportunities as the match goes on.
Los Rojiblancos will bring a strong squad to Chicago, which will include veteran defenders Héctor Reynoso and Jonny Magallón (of 2007 Gold Cup infamy) as well as forwards Alberto Medina and Omar Arellano. Their roster also includes talented young players such as defender Miguel Angel Ponce, midfielder Marco Fabian and forward Carlos Fierro, who was a member of the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup champion Mexican National Team.
Chicago Fire fan and Mexican League soccer expert Rudy Gomez was very direct in describing Chivas' current philosophy. "Everyone attacks," he said. "This will be a nice challenge for the Fire back-line and we'll really be able to see how good they are."
Gomez also mentioned to look out for goalkeeper Luis Ernesto Michel, who has been fighting for the starting job with the Mexican national team and, according to Gomez, has the potential to steal the job from both Guillermo Ochoa and Alfredo Talavera.
The Fire will likely go with a roster loaded with younger and reserve players. Had the Fire managed to win last Saturday against San Jose, this would have been a no-brainer. While the Fire are basically out of MLS playoff contention, they will surely not give up on that front until they are mathematically eliminated. (Which is good for Pari Pantazopoulos fans like myself)
Wilt also added his thoughts on who could perform well for the Fire on Wednesday:
"I will be interested to see how (Colombian striker) Cristian Nazarit does in this game. He is a young, strong target who has excelled in reserve games, but hasn't had much of a chance with the first team. It will also be good to see (Uruguayan striker) Diego Chaves back on the field. After a very good start, he has been benched for most of the season."
So although the Fire appear to be out of the playoffs, this match can provide fans a break from the MLS heartache and see some of the best players that our neighbors to the south have to offer.
Wilt, in particular, believes those who attend are in for a treat.
"The results don't count for anything more than bragging rights, but if fans accept the match for what it is and look for the unique opportunities friendlies provide, the experience can be special."