July a hot month for Chicago soccer

July a hot month for Chicago soccer
July 1, 2013, 5:45 pm
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Len Ziehm

July will be the biggest month of the year for soccer in Chicago.

It’ll climax with the CONCACAF Gold Cup final at Soldier Field on July 28, but there will be some other special events before then.

A tribute match honoring Lionel Messi is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Soldier Field on Saturday and the Fire will host Mexico’s Club America at Toyota Park on Wednesday, July 10. The Fire also has home Major League Soccer matches against the San Jose Earthquakes this Wednesday and Sporting Kansas City on Sunday, so the always popular Club America visit will conclude a three-game homestand conducted over an eight-night span.

Only the final in the month-long Gold Cup will be played in Chicago. The 12-team international tourney is a major event in the U.S. national team’s preparation for the 2014 World Cup. The U.S. squad, which includes Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, began training in San Diego, Calif., on Monday and will have one tuneup match there – against Guatemala on Friday.

The Gold Cup begins on Sunday, July 7, but the U.S. doesn’t play until two days later when it faces Belize in Portland, Ore. The U.S. is in Group C of the competition with Cuba and Costa Rica. Other U.S. matches in pool play are July 13 against Cuba in Salt Lake City, Utah, and July 16 against Costa Rica in Harford, Ct.

Group A includes Canada, Mexico, Panama and Martinique, while Group B features Honduras, El Salvador, Trinidad & Tobago and Haiti.

If the U.S. survives group play it’ll advance to the quarterfinal round on July 20. The semifinals are July 24 in Arlington, Tex., with the winners going to the final at Soldier Field.

As long as the U.S. is in that competition – and it’s won the Gold Cup four times – the Fire figures to be without Johnson, its star netminder. Italian Paolo Tornaghi will take his place, beginning with San Jose’s visit. In the last meeting with the Earthquakes Johnson had a career-high 10 saves as the earned a 1-1 draw on the road last season.

Wednesday’s match will be the only meeting between the teams this season, and the Fire (5-7-3) needs points in MLS. Despite going on an eight-game unbeaten streak across all competitions, the Fire is still five points behind the Houston Dynamo, which owns the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Though San Jose (5-7-6) isn’t much better record-wise, the Earthquakes have gained some momentum with two wins in three matches under interim coach Mark Watson, who took over for Frank Yallop.  San Jose scored twice in stoppage time to knock off the two-time MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy 3-2 on Saturday, an outcome that left Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena "absolutely embarrassed.’’

With Johnson missing from the Fire lineup the goalkeeper matchup boils down to the little-used Tornaghi against Jon Busch, who was a stellar performer for the Fire from 2007-09.  Busch was the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2008 and the only Fire player to play every minute of every game in 2009.  In both campaigns the Fire went to the Eastern Conference final.  It hasn’t been that far since.

Busch was shockingly released in the final days before the Fire’s dismal 2010 season began and he rebounded with more solid play in San Jose.  The Earthquakes also have ex-Fire defender Dan Gargan on the roster., a player they acquired in an offseason trade.  Gargan, a part-time starter in his days with the Fire, was a high school teammate of Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz.  Both attended Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia.

There’ll be another interesting matchup when SKC arrives for a Sunday matinee match.  Josh Gardner, an SKC defender, is a brother-in-law to Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini. Gardner married Paladini’s sister Michelle. This will be the second of three meetings between the Eastern Conference rivals. The first, on March 16 in Kansas City, ended 0-0.

Elsewhere there have been some interesting developments involving U.S. soccer. Carlos Bocanegra, the one-time Fire defender and U.S. captain, was left off the U.S. Gold Cup roster. Bocanegra, 34, was released by Scottish club Rangers after being on loan to Racing Santander of the Spanish second division. On Monday he signed with Chivas USA, the last-place team in MLS’ Western Conference.

With his career apparently winding down the one-time MLS Rookie-of-the-Year in his days with the Fire opted to play in California, where he grew up. To make that happen Chivas USA negotiated a trade with Toronto FC, which had the top pick in MLS allocation process.

Bocanegra has 110 caps for the U.S., and U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he was left off the Gold Cup roster to enable Bocanegra to more easily settle in with his new club. He’ll be eligible to play for Chivas USA when the summer transfer window opens on July 9.

The Bocanegra addition is in keeping with the midseason rebuilding that Chivas USA has undertaken. Four players were released on Sunday, a few weeks after Jose Luis Real was named head coach. Chivas (3-10-3) snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 1-1 home draw against New England on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Red Stars, 3-6-3 in the new Natonal Women’s Soccer League, host the Western New York Flash (6-2-4) in Lisle on Thursday.  The Fourth of July match could be the first for newly acquired forward Adriana Leon. She came in a trade with the Boston Breakers, who picked up defender Carmelina Moscato from the Red Stars.

Moscato had made four starts in five match appearances for the Red Stars. Leon, who had one start in six appearances for Boston, has been a recent callup by the Canadian national team.