$1 million prize at stake for Wednesday's winner
The Chicago Fire and Tigres UANL battle for the 2009 SuperLiga championship at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Toyota Park (televised on TeleFutura). The winner earns a $1 million prize, and the U.S.-Mexico bragging rights are always a sub-factor.
Quite a bit has happened since the last time the Fire faced Tigres during SuperLiga group play.
For starters, Chicago's defense has reached a higher level of late, posting three straight shutouts in Major League Soccer action. In comparison, Fire head coach Denis Hamlett was incredibly disappointed with the defensive unit following a 2-1 loss to Tigres on June 27.
Despite that defeat, Chicago still advanced to the SuperLiga semis. And since that match, the Fire have not allowed more than one goal in a single game.
"We have an older group. We know what it's about," Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch said regarding the team's success of late. "We know when it's time to get going. And this is our time to get going. Nobody needs to kick us in the (butt). We know. We're a very experienced group."
On the offensive side, it's still a bit of a work in progress without injured forward Brian McBride. But Chicago is finding enough to get by and post a positive result - a 2-0-1 record, to be exact in McBride's absence. In the case of the Fire's recent 1-0 victory against Real Salt Lake, forward Patrick Nyarko scored for a second straight home game, while fellow forward Chris Rolfe had an off night with some of his touches and decisions.
"Some guys have an off night, other nights you're good. But that's what the team's about - different guys step up," Hamlett said. "I still think the combination of (Rolfe) and Patrick caused (Real Salt Lake) some problems. I felt that we made sure they pulled their center backs out and got some isolations."
Over the weekend, Hamlett did not play MLS All-Stars Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Wilman Conde at midfield and defense, respectively. Blanco injured his ankle on Friday and Conde has had a lingering hamstring problem. Also missing Saturday was midfielder John Thorrington, who was serving a red card suspension. But Thorrington is now doubtful to participate this week with a right groin strain. And Conde's left hamstring strain lists him as out on the injury list.
These will be some difficult setbacks to try and get through the SuperLiga title match and especially on the road against the MLS-leading Houston Dynamo on Sunday.
If the Fire can somehow manage to overcome these obstacles for a championship trophy and $1 million, even Dr. Evil would be proud of their efforts.