Hot time in Chicago
Is it just me, or has Blanco Fever struck MLS like a shiny, happy virus?
All of a sudden, the Chicago Fire are the league's hottest team (no pun intended) and everyone's favorite underdog. They snuck into the playoffs on the last day, and then beat D.C. United 1-0 in the first leg of their MLS Cup playoff series last Thursday. Now every pundit with a laptop or a Sunday afternoon TV show on Fox Soccer Channel is picking the Fire to reach the MLS Cup final.
However, they first have to get by United in the second leg this Thursday. That's no easy feat. They go to RFK, face the screaming, ravenous Barra Brava (Do people coincidentally "forget" to feed those folks on game days?) and must try to eke out a victory over MLS' best team in the regular season.
Not that I'm saying they can't do it. Quite the opposite. After all, Chicago is undefeated in its last nine league games. I'm an unabashed bandwagoneer, delirious myself with Blanco Fever. It's impossible to resist.
People have been e-mailing me about Blanco all season. They've scoffed at
Blanco is the kind of competitor that you can't help but love. This season, we've watched him dive, embellish, grandstand, mock the referee, upbraid his teammates, disrespect his opponents and flash that brilliant scowl like a henchman in a
All of this, of course, eluded many commentators prior to his arrival in Chicago. Most people seemed to think he would have an impact in the stands, but that his on-the-field antics would wear thin. Many thought the game would be too fast for him. Some even believed he would tank it here.
Tank it? Blanco? Never. He's got an ego the size of Azteca Stadium. When he arrived here in July and everyone was nattering on about David Beckham this and David Beckham that, Blanco took it personally.
Last Thursday, he finally received his nationally broadcast due. The ESPN announcers made repeated apologies for doubting Blanco. If they had done their homework beforehand and watched Blanco in Mexico the season before he came to MLS, they could've saved face a little. The past year in the Mexican Primera División, he was on fire (again, no pun intended), scoring at will for Club América and entertaining the folks. And he has done the same thing since he got here.
Here's something to remember: Mexico also has playoffs. So the amplified intensity of the MLS postseason is nothing new to Blanco, unlike to Beckham and New York's
The Chicago bandwagon, however, is not being drawn by Blanco alone. Coach
Furthermore, he has gotten the best out of his pair of young American strikers,
But -- there's always a "but," isn't there? -- is this really a team capable of winning the Cup? Is it even capable of getting by a fully operational D.C. United when they play the second leg Thursday night at RFK? Remember, United started the first leg without leading scorer
If you ask me, yes. United is limping along right now. It's not just the injuries or its recent form (winless in five straight, in all competitions), but also the
Teams go one of two ways in this situation: They rally around for one last hurrah, or they fizzle out in a muddle of distraction. I foresee the latter. Because when you combine all that with Blanco Fever and Chicago Fire's good form, United looks entirely primed to get burned. Pun intended.