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SuperLiga spices up MLS calendar
by Ridge Mahoney, July 14th, 2010 2:15AM

TAGS:  mexico, mls


[SUPERLIGA] In the fourth season of SuperLiga, which annually matches up the some of the best from MLS and the Mexican League, the marketing concept of bundling will be tested. Fans wishing to see Manchester United’s training session at Toyota Park on Wednesday prior to a Group B match between Chicago and Morelia can only do so with a SuperLiga ticket. United trains at 4 p.m. local (CT), which is 4 ½ hours prior to the Fire-Morelia kickoff and offers plenty of time in-between games for sales of merchandise, concessions, etc.

During that window between games, New England and UNAM Pumas kick off SuperLiga play at Gillette Stadium (8 p.m. ET, TeleFutura). The Chicago-Morelia game (9:30 ET, Galavision) will get underway before the other game is concluded. (United began its U.S. tour with a few training sessions in Chicago before it opens a four-match tour of North America Friday in Toronto against Glasgow Celtic.)

More than a half-dozen foreign teams will be touring the U.S. during SuperLiga, which will again involve four teams from each league split into two groups. Chicago and Morelia are joined in Group B by New England and UNAM (Pumas); Group A consists of MLS representatives Houston and Chivas USA, along with Pachuca and Puebla.

On Thursday, Houston hosts Pachuca (8 p.m. ET, TeleFutura) at Robertson Stadium and Chivas USA plays Puebla (10:30 ET, Galavision) at Home Depot Center. On the weekend, the MLS teams and Mexican teams play each other in doubleheaders, with the Group B games at Toyota Park on Saturday and Group A action staged at Robertson on Sunday. Group play concludes next week, with the semifinals to be played in early August, sites and dates to be determined.

Teams qualifying for the Concacaf Champions’ League, which begins in August, aren’t eligible to play in SuperLiga. MLS representatives are determined by final placing, the Mexican teams are invited. The tournament is a joint venture between the MLS and its marketing offshoot, Soccer United Marketing (SUM), and the Mexican league.

Chicago and New England, frequent opponents in past MLS playoff series, added a SuperLiga semifinal to their shared history last season. The Fire beat the Revs, 2-1, at Gillette Stadium to reach the final, which it hosted and lost to UANL Tigres.

“The final was pretty good,” said Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear, a big fan of the tournament. “I thought Chicago was a little bit unlucky. They came out and played pretty well, scored a good goal. The second half all Tigres did was sit back. All three SuperLiga finals have come down to penalty kicks, too, so that shows there’s not much between the teams.”

Pachuca beat the Galaxy at HDC in 2007 (1-1, 4-3 on penalties), New England topped Houston at Gillette Stadium in 2008 (2-2, 6-5), and last year Tigres topped the Fire (1-1, 4-3) in front of a sellout crowd of 20,000 at Toyota Park.

Average attendance for the 2009 tournament was 9,514, a steep drop from the 16,483 average it compiled in 2007. Aside from the final, the largest crowd last year came out for the Chivas USA-UNAL match at HDC (11,197). SuperLiga matches averaged 13,026 in 2008.

This year’s group breakdown matches up Houston and Pachuca, which have met six times in the SuperLiga and Concacaf Champions’ League the past three years. Pachuca, which leads the series 3-2-1, is a team long admired by Kinnear. “I just like the way they play,” he said. ‘They like to attack and move the ball and keep it on the ground, and they always seem to have a bunch of good players. These teams and this tournament are a good way for our players to test themselves.”

Pachuca now has three Americans. Herculez Gomez, who scored 10 league goals for Puebla last season to earn a place on the U.S. World Cup roster, arrived in the offseason, as did Texas product Marco Antonio Vidal, from relegated Indiios. And Pachuca has retained the services of another U.S. World Cup player, midfielder Jose Francisco Torres.

Former Mexican international Tomas Boy coaches Morelia, and ex-Chivas USA forward Francisco Palencia is with UNAM, along with three members of Mexico’s World Cup team: Efrain Juarez, Israel Castro, and Pablo Barrera.

Recently signed Venezuelan international Giancarlo Maldonado has been named to the Chivas USA roster for the tournament. Houston shook up its roster this week by releasing Mexican striker Luis Angel Landin, and signing Ghanaian midfielder Anthony Obodai.

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