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Fire Sun Aug 03 2008

There Was Some Soccer

I'll cop to it. I really screwed up. Faced with the chance to see three professional soccer games in Chicago this week, I only saw two. Worse than that, I missed the one that actually mattered: the Chicago Fire's 1-0 win over Chivas USA. Call me a blatant Eurosnob (or a guy who had way too many scheduling conflicts this Saturday), but I chose international friendlies over a competitive league match. The good news is that when faced with a glut of options, not everyone did.

The Fire's friendly against Everton FC, the fifth place team in the wildly popular English Premiere League, drew a paltry 9,000. Barcelona's friendly against Chivas Guadalajara drew 40,000 to Soldier Field. That's nothing to sneeze at, but a little disappointing considering we're talking about Barce-friggin-lona here. And really there were waaay more Chivas fans there than people that bought Barca jerseys out of the Eurosport catalog. Meanwhile, the Fire drew a sellout 20,492 crowd to Toyota Park for their regular MLS league game against Chivas USA. That number was helped by the fact that they sold combo ticket packages with the Barcelona game, but the fact that that much soccer happened this week and it didn't cannibalize the MLS attendance says something for the loyalty and interest the team is starting to generate.

And, OK, the games that I went to were approached like they were totally just friendlies, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a lot to enjoy about them. Observations after the break:

Patrick Nyarko is for real - The rookie got a start against Everton and looked skillful but tentative at first. As the half wore on you could see him growing in confidence and gelling with the rest of the team though. It culminated in a brilliant dummy to help set up Chris Rolfe's goal. Nyarko's performance carried over into his first league start against Chivas USA, where he scored the winning goal and had another one disallowed for offsides. He, um, also got a concussion, so hopefully he'll be healthy and ready to play again soon.

Pappa is also for real -
Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa also had a terrific debut against Everton. Together with Nyarko he injected pace and energy into an attack that had been stagnating. I can't wait to see what the pair can do with the suspended Cuahtemoc Blanco pulling the strings behind them. I also really want to see what Justin Mapp can do now that he has a little competition for his spot.

It's a good thing the US National Team doesn't know what to do with Chris Rolfe -
Because if he had enough caps to get a work permit in England I don't see what would have kept Everton from buying him right on the spot there. The guy showed ridiculous skill on the ball, pretty much beating Everton defenders at will.

The Fire's 2nd Team Doesn't Look Bad Either - Given that the Fire had played on Sunday and had another match on Saturday, coach Denis Hamlet did the smart thing for a Wednesday night friendly. He subbed out the entire starting lineup at halftime. The good news is the Fire's second team continued to dominate a tiring preseason Everton and pulled out the 2-0 win. International Thomas Frankowski and Andy Herron are not bad guys to have on your 2nd eleven (although notice Nyarko recently leapfrogged over them in the pecking order).

Lider Marmol Looks Like a Project - During that second half we discovered that elusive Paraguayan defender Lider Marmol does exist and he's a very large man. He looked decent, but a little slow and a little green. I think he'd be good alongside a Wilman Conde or Diego Gutierrez, but he's definitely a "project" kind of player and that role is being filled admirably right now by Bakary Soumare.

Barcelona is Pretty Good At Soccer - While a lackluster Everton showed us how bad a team can be during preseason, Barcelona strolled onto Soldier Field and put on a clinic, beating Chivas 5-2. They had a few sketchy preseason moments, notably a bad backpass that led to Chivas first goal. At times though, their combination play and movement was every bit as impressive as Brazil's against the USA at Soldier Field last year. Spanish midfielders Xavi and Iniesta, coming off a victorious UEFA Championship campaign, particular stood out pinging precise passes all over the field with ease.

My Lineup Sheet Said Thierry Henry Was Going To Play - But apparently Barcelona decided to start the shadow of his former self instead. Henry's lack of energy, enthusiasm, pace, and anything else that made him the special player he used to be was the most disappointing thing about the game. When Samuel Eto'o subbed on for him at halftime and instantly scored a goal, it really made me wonder why Barcelona is looking to sell the Cameroonian instead of the Frenchman.

That Guy Suarez Was Pretty Good - I had never heard of Jeffren Suarez before halftime of Sunday's game. In the 30 minutes he played, his ability and willingness to take players on impressed me enough that I got home and googled him. He's 20 years old. I don't know where Barcelona keeps finding these kids, but their youth teams could probably give the Fire Super-20s a game. By the way, the Super-20s really are quite good.

 
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