CJ Sapong – Chicago Fire – team goal celebration

BRIDGEVIEW – The Chicago Fire have a lot on their plate at the moment. 

They sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings after their last two games have yielded just a single point against the league’s two worst teams. And they’re in the middle of negotiating a relocation of the team to downtown Chicago, all while also mulling a complete rebrand.

Into this fray enter Cruz Azul – one of Liga MX’s best sides over the past year and fresh off a triumph in the SuperCopa MX – for the inaugural Leagues Cup. The competition may not have a history, but that hasn’t lessened the importance it will be treated with.

“Cruz Azul has achieved the first of three trophies it would like to take home over the next six months,” said club president Ricardo Pelaez following their 4-0 win over Necaxa on Sunday.

Leagues Cup: Key figures on both sides speak out on value of new tournament

The third, in addition to the Leagues Cup, is the 2019 Apertura. The first half of the Liga MX season kicks off this weekend. 

While Cruz Azul will have a few games under their belt before next Tuesday’s matchup (8:30 pm ET | ESPN+, UDN), Chicago will be 23 games into what’s produced a 5-9-8 record. The quarterfinal matchup will also be the Fire’s fourth game in 11 days, but president and general manager Nelson Rodriguez has high hopes.

“We have always adopted the attitude that when a trophy’s on the line, we want to play to try to win it,” Rodriguez said on Wednesday. “Sure, it’s more complicated by having a game (Wednesday) and Saturday before next Tuesday’s match.”

The Fire have not been in trophy-winning form prior to their Leagues Cup debut, exemplified by home points dropped to Cincinnati and Columbus in the past week. Saturday will bring no respite via Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia (7:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info) and the projected high temperature of nearly 100 degrees.

Leagues Cup launches new era of MLS-Liga MX Rivalry

Form and schedule congestion aside, the competition figures to be a tough test for the MLS participants, with the Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake the others in contention.

Rodriguez is well aware of the challenge, which ranges from a crowded schedule to traditionally-stronger opponents. 

“We’re going to make every attempt to win against a great rival who’s in great form,” Rodriguez said. “And our expectation is that Cruz Azul is also going to play its best players in an attempt to win."