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When I go to Chicago sporting events - and I took in two on Saturday and Sunday - I usually sit in the cheap seats.
The only "season" tickets I have (my wife and I split a Cubs nights and weekends package with three other parties) are in the upper deck reserved.
I didn't quite make it down to the front row when I had a chance to take in the Fire game Saturday evening at Toyota Park and the White Sox's battle with the Brewers at The Cell Sunday. But I was pretty close to the action.
And here's a news flash: It was very cool to be so close - especially for the Fire's stirring 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew.
Earlier on Saturday I watched on ESPN as Spain defeated France 2-0 in Euro 2012 quarterfinal action from either Poland or the Ukraine. The countries are co-hosting and I think the game was in Gdansk. In fact, I'm just going with that city as the setting just because that may be my one and only chance to ever work "Gdansk" into a column.
Anyway, Spain absolutely dominated. The favorites scored in the first half of the first half and France barely even threatened before Spain eventually put the game away with a penalty kick in the final few minutes in the 90-something'th minute.
The defending Euro and World Cup champs are a great, great team but France's unwillingness to extend itself to try to score the tying goal, especially in the second half of the second half, was aggravating to say the least. It seemed awfully clear that after their abysmal showing at World Cup 2010 (a petulant French team scored all of one goal on its way to embarrassing elimination during preliminary pool play), the team known as "Les Bleu" was more than happy to hold down the score against Spain, take its respectable Top Eight finish and head home. Boooo.
A lack of desperation was not a problem at the Fire game, to say the least. I'm not sure if it was the very early first goal - Marco Pappa shot from distance and his powerful blast found the upper right-hand corner in the second minute - but these two teams were playing 200 miles per hour the whole way. There wasn't a player on the pitch who wasn't doing everything he possibly could to push his team forward at every turn.
And the great thing about our seats, in about the 10th row (friends of ours had acquired them as part of a charity auction package) a little above the top of the north penalty box, was that we could really see the players' skill on several skirmishes by the sideline right in front of us. Twice we watched as ultra-skillful Fire striker/winger Patrick Nyarko worked his magic to find a way out of seemingly being trapped up against the boundary, to first dribble down the sideline before making a dangerous pass into the middle and, second, to simply keep possession and make a solid pass to one of the Fire's central mids.
We also watched two different Fire players not only prevent passes with pace from going out of bounds, but also turn them into slick little passes to teammates. One of my friends (not a big soccer fan) asked me about the difference between Premier League soccer and Major League Soccer during the game and of course I pointed out that the former is one of the best two leagues in the world and the latter is a second-tier collection of teams. But I feel confident that a Premier League game could not possibly have been more entertaining than Fire versus Columbus was on Saturday.
Striker extraordinaire Dominic Oduro turned a perfect through ball from Sebastian Grazzini into the Fire's second and final goal in the 26th minute and then disaster struck.
The Fire's Gonzalo Segares mustered an incredibly Ill-considered tackle of a Crew midfielder, arriving late and with cleats high. He was red-carded in the 29th minute and the Fire was looking at more than 60 minutes of playing a man down.
But they held on. The Crew managed a goal but Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson back-stopped a great defensive effort (including a reflex save of a tipped shot that was other-worldly) that enabled the Fire to hold on. It was a great, great night at the little stadium in Bridgeview.
The official MLS highlights:
As for the Sox game, we decided to splurge on a couple good seats for my son the White Sox fan and I as a week-late observance of Father's Day. We were about 30 rows up from third base and we immensely enjoyed a classic pitcher's duel that ended with the White Sox pulling out a 1-0 win in 10 innings.
The best thing about the day was watching Francisco Rodriguez go to work on the mound for the Brewers in the eighth inning. And the best thing for the White Sox was the Brewers only left him in for one inning.
Rodriguez, who starred at closer for the Mets late last decade before a domestic violence incident caused the team to unload him, has ridiculously nasty stuff - which we were in a real good place to assess. He either threw the Sox hitters outside corner breaking balls that clocked 77 on the gun or gas that was 94 or higher.
Starting pitchers Jose Quintana and Michael Fiers were great but Rodriguez was awesome when he had to bear down and get outs with men on base. Somehow you just knew Gordon Beckham and Adam Dunn didn't stand a chance against him and sure enough, they both struck out to end a threat.
But as it turned out, Eduardo Escobar saved the day in the tenth. Who knew.
Also: The Youk's farewell to Boston. Welcome to Chicago.
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