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Fire's Club America game has business angles as well
By Orrin Schwarz | Daily Herald Columnist

Chicago Fire's Cuauhtémoc Blanco, left, will face his former team, Mexico's Club America, in an exhibition match Wednesday night at Toyota Park.


Associated Press file

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Published: 4/28/2009 4:20 PM

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Club America at Chicago Fire

When: 7:30 p.m. today at Toyota Park.

TV: none.

Scouting Club America: The Mexico City club is without five players called in to the national team: Edgar Castillo, Guillermo Ochoa, Ismael Rodriguez, Oscar Rojas and Juan Carlos Valenzuela. Still, this probably is the top team in Mexico.

Scouting the Fire: A good showing against Cuauhtemoc Blanco's former club would improve the image abroad of the Fire and MLS in general. This game could be the debut for top draft pick Baggio Husidic of Libertyville.

Next game: vs. Seattle Sounders FC, Saturday.

The Fire's soccer game Wednesday night at Toyota Park against Mexico's Club America might be just an exhibition match, but to both clubs it's also serious business.

"For us, first and foremost, when you look at Club America and who they are in the football world, it's the pre-eminent team in all of Mexico, certainly akin to the New York Yankees," Fire team president Dave Greeley said. "When you say New York Yankees, you either love them or you hate them, and that's the kind of passion Club America evokes. -

"They have a tremendous following not just in Mexico but here in Chicago. There's a strong belief on our behalf that there are thousands of Club America fans in Chicagoland. And by playing their team of yesterday in their home of today, to the Hispanic consumer we think that makes all the sense in the world, not only for the Fire, but also for Club America."

The Fire and Club America have a collaboration agreement in place for a home-and-home series of matches, though a date for the match at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium hasn't yet been set.

The clubs also are talking about possibly having joint soccer camps or clinics, as well as possibly getting their team sponsors involved. For instance, Bimbo Bakeries is the jersey sponsor for Club America, while Fire players wear the Best Buy logo.

"They have some interest in Chicago," Greeley said of Bimbo. "They're growing. - Maybe one day we can get Bimbo as a sponsor for the Fire. Conversely, we have Best Buy as a business partner, our jersey sponsor. They're now opening up some stores in Mexico. Perhaps Best Buy can become a sponsor of Club America one day."

The relationship could extend beyond what the players wear on the field to include which players take the field.

"You can certainly go beyond business and marketing interests," Greeley said. "Perhaps there are player exchanges down the road. We would love to think that (Cuauhtémoc) Blanco could play with the Fire forever. We know that's not the case. So we want to continue to make inroads with the Mexican-American soccer fan in Chicago."

Club America sees the match as a chance to reconnect with its fans here.

"The game against Chicago is an important game for the great Mexican community in Chicago that has always cheered for America," coach Jesus Ramirez said. "We are looking forward to the game, and hope we can repeat this every year because it is a great opportunity for the Chicago Fire, for America and for all of the fans."

The Club America players will be reunited with Blanco, a former Club America player now roaming the Toyota Park field for the Fire.

"Cuauhtémoc has been successful because he is a great competitor," Club America midfielder Pavel Pardo said. "It is going to be hard to play against him because he is a great ex-teammate and a friend. We look forward to offering an entertaining game for the fans."