Thursday, July 28, 2005

Forza Chicago

The AC Milan/Chicago Fire game last night was much more competitive than I expected. Milan ended up winning 3-1, but only after being outplayed by Chicago for the first 70 minutes of the game. Chicago generated far more scoring chances during this span, and were unlucky only to get one goal, as they hit the post and the crossbar between the 62nd and 64th minutes. They could have had even more goals had not striker Andy Herron completely flubbed two breakaways.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised that Milan played without much luster--they are still in their preseason. They showed almost no cohesion in the first half, although there were flashes of individual brilliance by Rui Costa anf Cafu, and the long ball sent in by Paolo Maldini that led to the first goal was a thing of beauty. Milan didn't get things going until the last 20 minutes of the game, when halftime substitutes (and normal 1st team starters) Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf concocted a brilliant give-and-go, resulting in Seedorf one-touching Pirlo's return across the goal mouth to an unmarked Alberto Gilardino, who tapped the ball into an empty net. It was a glorious reminder of soccer's inherent beauty, and despite the previous 70 minutes, everyone in the stands knew that Chicago was probably not capable of such a play.

Serginho added on in stoppage time with a strike that went in off the crossbar, leading to a very misleading final score. A fair result of the game would have been a 2-2 draw, or perhaps even a 3-2 Fire victory. I came into the game expected a 3-0 or 4-0 blowout in favor of Milan; their back line of Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, and Jaap Stam is probably the best in the world. The game would have been more lopsided had Milan played at full strength--they were missing Andriy Shevchenko, the best striker in the world, Kaka, a top-5 worldwide attacking midfielder, and Dida, a top-5 goalkeeper--but Chicago showed that the new FIFA rankings with the US at #6 are no fluke. There are no US national team stars on Chicago; their best players are borderline World Cup squad members. So if a bunch of no-name US players can outplay one of the world's elite clubs, imagine what a full US squad will be able to do in the 2006 World Cup.

Update: Just read that last night the Columbus Crew beat Fulham 2-1 in another friendly. While Fulham isn't even in the top tier of the Premiership, it's still a surprising result that bodes well for Major League Soccer. I like to rag on the MLS sometimes, but that will certainly become more difficult to do in light of these results.

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