[SUPERLIGA] One year after coming within one goal of reaching MLS Cup, the Chicago Fire came within one kick of winning the third edition of SuperLiga, but couldn't convert a sellout home crowd and an early goal into a victory.
Itamar Batista scored late in the first half to match an early goal by Patrick Nyarko and after a goalless second half, tucked away the decisive penalty kick in a 4-3 shootout win that brought UNL the SuperLiga crown in front of 20,000 fans at the Fire's Toyota Park.
UNL joins 2007 winner Pachuca as the Mexican league teams to win this competition that matches them with their MLS counterparts. New England captured the title last year by beating Houston in an all-MLS final.
Mike Banner and Justin Mapp missed the second and fourth Fire attempts in the shootout. Chicago goalie Jon Busch got back Banner's miss by saving Manuel Viniegra's shot, but after Mapp blazed a ball over the crossbar, Armando Pulido and Daniel Woolard converted to leave the teams tied, 3-3, with one kick remaining. Batista drilled a low shot cleanly past Busch to bring the slim, twisting SuperLiga trophy back south of the border.
Fire coach Denis Hamlett deployed defender C.J. Brown in place of Wilman Conde, hobbled by a pulled hamstring. Tim Ward replaced midfielder John Thorrington, out with a groin strain, and Brandon Prideaux took Ward's spot in the back line.
Cuauhtemoc Blanco had been sidelined by an ankle injury yet played the full 90 minutes and converted the Fire's first shootout attempt.
Nyarko, scorer of Chicago's goal in a 1-0 defeat of Real Salt Lake Saturday, ghosted behind the Tigres back line to glance home a left-wing cross from Gonzalo Segares in the 10th minute.
Batista glided past several opponents on the dribble and fired inside the far post to equalize in the 43rd minute, and his goal sent the teams off the field at halftime tied, 1-1.
Baggio Husidic replaced Ward at halftime, and Chicago - which held a 7-2 edge in shots after 45 minutes - maintained that superiority in the second half but couldn't find another way past Tigres keeper Cirilo Saucedo.
Batista nearly scored again in the 60th minute when he got in behind the defense and lobbed a shot that cleared Busch but drifted wide.
Segares and Blanco put shots on frame that Saucedo handled, and Blanco threatened again in the final minutes, only to be denied by the Tigres keeper once again to set up the shootout and a repeat of Pachuca's triumph over the Galaxy in the 2007 final.
In all three stagings the title has been determined by penalty kicks.
Aug. 5 in Bridgeview, Ill.
Chicago Fire 1, UNL Tigres 1.
Goals: Nyarko (Segares, Pause) 10; Batista (Fonseca) 43.
(UNL wins 4-3 on penalty kicks).
Penalties: Blanco (goal), Banner (wide), Rolfe (goal), Mapp (high), Woolard (goal); Fernandez (goal), Viniegra (saved), Ayala (goal), Pulido (goal), Batista (goal).
Chicago - Busch; Ward (Husidic, 46), Brown, Soumare (Woolard, 92+), Segares, Prideaux, Pause, Pappa (Mapp, 76) Rolfe, Blanco, Nyarko (Banner, 90).
UNL - Saucedo; Castillo, Castro, Molina, Gonzalez, Ayala, Fernandez, Toledo (Pulido, 85), Ortiz, Fonseca (Viniegra, 65), Batista.
Referee: Joel Aguilar.