The Fire's SuperLiga dream came to a not so super close tonight, as the team lost a gutting match to Tigres UANL 4-3 in penalty kicks at Toyota Park.
The Fire came out on all cylinders to start the match and they were able to take the early lead in the 10th minute when Patrick Nyarko neatly flicked a Gonzalo Segares cross inside the near post of a diving Cirilo Saucedo from about 6 yards out. It was looking like the Fire would go into the break with their one goal advantage but Tigres forward Itamar Batista had other ideas and in the 43rd minute he tied the game with a magnificent right footed strike off of the far post from 10 yards out.
But most impressive about Itamar's finish wasn't the shot but how he managed to create the space to get it off. Itamar received the ball at the top of the 18, beat Fire defender Bakary Soumare, and then pulled the ball back to get away from Brandon Prideaux before firing his shot past Jon Busch.
Giving up a goal so late in the first half had to demoralize the Fire a bit and it kind of showed as Tigres came out in the second half in control. However, Tigres' good amount of possession didn't translate to many opportunities and the Fire was soon able to get more of the ball and they started creating chances.
The Fire's first good opportunity of the half came in the 61st, when defender Gonzalo Segares unleashed a wicked shot from long range only to see Saucedo get a touch to it and deflect the ball out.
The next chance for the Fire wouldn't come until nearly 20 minutes later, in the 78th minute. This time midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco was the one who was denied by Saucedo as the Mexican midfielder saw his effort from the top of the arc caught by the diving keeper.
The final 10+ minutes of action would pass without either team creating much of a chance and the two sides headed for penalties.
Both teams slotted home their first penalties with relative ease but things started to get very interesting when midfielder Mike Banner stepped up to take the Fire's second spot kick. Banner, who had been subbed on in the 90th minute simply to take the penalty, sent his low shot wide of the right post putting the Fire at an early disadvantage.
However, Jon Busch came up big on the very next shot as he was all over Manuel Viniegra's effort and the Fire stayed level with Tigres going into the third round of PK's.
This next round saw Chris Rolfe and Lucas Ayala both easily put their efforts in the back of the net but the Fire was setback again when Justin Mapp sent his shot *waaaaay* over the bar.
Mapp's miss would prove to be a fatal one for the Fire as Tigres hit their next two penalties, clinching the 4-3 win and giving them the SuperLiga crown.
The result has to be a tough one to swallow for the Fire as they were so close to getting their hands on that ever-elusive trophy. Hopefully this loss gives the team a little extra motivation for the MLS season though as they continue their journey for the most important trophy of the year, the MLS Cup.
Before I leave I wanted to pose a couple questions to you all though, so here they are...
**1) What did you think of the game going straight from regular time to penalty kicks?**
I thought it was awful. I think it says a lot about the credibility of a competition when there is no extra time in the final. Penalty kicks are the cruelest way to decide a game -- let alone a tournament champion -- and I think that the teams should be given every opportunity (like two extra time periods for instance...) to decide the match on the *whole* field.
**2) What about the Fire penalties?**
Simply put, they were not good. You cannot miss the entire net twice and have a shot at winning a shootout and unfortunately for them, Justin Mapp and Mike Banner did just that.
**3) What would you have done differently if you're in Denis Hamlett's shoes?**
I wouldn't have changed much. I thought the lineup was good and that the substitutions worked out nicely as well. I'm sure the penalty lineup Denis chose (though it didn't work out so well...) was composed of the best penalty takers on the team (as proven in practice...) so I won't fault him much for that.