Mexican World Cup veteran and Pumas striker Francisco Palencia spent two seasons with Chivas USA.
MexSport

SuperLiga 2010: Group B Preview

The two semifinal spots should be a race between three teams. Pumas – who make their first SuperLiga appearance – and Morelia seem like the early favorites, as both teams had solid performances in their last league campaigns.

Chicago have had a bit of trouble in MLS action this year, seemingly unable to string together a solid run. Worse, the Fire’s Achilles heel has been their inability to put games away in penalty-kick shootouts, which is how all three previous SuperLiga finals have ended.

Finally, 2008 champs New England enter the tournament as a shadow of their former selves, but will try to use SuperLiga as the turning point in 2010.

CHICAGO FIRE

In 2009, a solid Chicago team made a strong run to the SuperLiga final, where they met Mexican club Tigres UANL and eventually lost in a thrilling penalty-kick shootout. This year, a struggling Fire will be making their second consecutive appearance in the tournament.

Though the team has started to turn it around in the league lately, a 4-4-5 record is not what first-year head coach Carlos de los Cobos wanted at this point in the season. Still, Chicago are no pushovers and will look to further their turnaround with a firm performance in this tournament, which de los Cobos labeled as “very important” for the club.

Key Players:

Marco Pappa – The 22-year-old winger has been key this season. With his ability to score from distance, tremendous dribbling skills and good vision, the Guatemalan is an instrumental part of the Fire’s attack.

Wilman Conde –The veteran center back is one of the most talented players on Chicago’s roster, but has been iffy at times this season. The Fire will need him at his best if they want to recreate their 2009 run to the final.

PUMAS UNAM

Pumas make their SuperLiga debut in the midst of their preseason, with just three friendly matches disputed ahead of this tournament. The Mexico City club has a new conductor at the wheel, as Guillermo Vásquez has assumed the manager spot formerly held by Brazilian-Mexican Ricardo “El Tuca” Ferreti, who guided the team to the quarterfinals of the Mexican Bicentenario playoffs, where Pumas were eliminated by eventual runners-up Santos Laguna.

Key Players:

Francisco Palencia – The two-time World Cup participant with Mexico returns to the pitches he once terrorized during his time with Chivas USA, for whom he played more than 30 games between 2005 and 2006. His great vision and cunning make the striker a key factor for the felines.

Pablo Barrera – The speedy, skilled and agile Mexican winger will terrorize SuperLiga teams, provided he isn’t signed by the many European squads reportedly after him before the tournament kicks off.

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION

The 2008 champions will vie for one of the two semifinal spots out of Group B with plenty of familiar faces. The Revs enter SuperLiga mired in a dismal domestic run. A sputtering offense – New England failed to score in five of their past six matches prior to July 4 – and an expansive injury crisis have limited Steve Nicol's side to just three wins in 14 attempts.

Despite the poor stretch of form, the Revolution can point to their two previous SuperLiga appearances – a title in 2008 and a semifinal appearance in 2009 – as proof of their credentials for a third consecutive berth in the knockout rounds.

Key Players:

Shalrie Joseph – The midfielder has played just six league matches this season after missing three games with an injury and another five while on a leave of absence. His considerable influence in the center of the park drives the Revolution.

Matt Reis – The veteran goalkeeper missed the first 12 games of the season, recovering from surgeries on his left knee and left shoulder. He possesses the ability to snatch a result for his side when he's in form, something the struggling Revs will need.

MONARCAS DE MORELIA

Morelia are no newbies to the SuperLiga. The Mexican club appeared in the inaugural 2007 edition of the tournament, finishing in dismal fourth place in Group B. After missing the past two editions, Tomás Boy’s men will take on the Chicago Fire in the opening game of the 2010 version.

Following solid performances in the Mexican 2009 Apertura and 2010 Bicentenario tournaments, Monarcas are looking for nothing short of vindication in front of their US fans.

Furthermore, Morelia will be looking to use a solid SuperLiga tournament as a springboard to the Mexican season, which begins shortly after the SuperLiga final.

Key Players:

Elías Hernández – The Morelia native is a production machine. In the Bicentenario, the tiny midfielder (5-foot-7, 132 pounds) scored seven goals to go along with his seven assists in 21 appearances.

Federico Vilar – While the offense will be key, the star reinforcement for Morelia is this goalkeeper. The ex-Atlante player brings security and valuable experience to lead the Monarca’s defensive line.

GAME TO WATCH

Monarcas vs. Pumas, July 17, 9:30 p.m. ET

Two of the most consistent clubs in the Mexican First Division will meet in the group’s second matchday. Pumas, who have a fairly talented squad, have appeared in the knockout rounds in 11 out of the last 21 tournaments, while Morelia, bolstered by six new signings, have advanced 10 times in the same span.