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updated: 7/21/2011 2:11 AM

Time for Chicago Fire to Man up

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  • Coach Frank Klopas, right, and Chicago Fire player Christian Nazarit share a laugh after practice Tuesday. The Fire hosts Manchester United on Saturday at Soldier Field.

      Coach Frank Klopas, right, and Chicago Fire player Christian Nazarit share a laugh after practice Tuesday. The Fire hosts Manchester United on Saturday at Soldier Field.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer


It's not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Fire veterans like Gonzalo Segares or Dominic Oduro to play Manchester United, but Saturday's international friendly will still be special.

"It's definitely very exciting when you have a chance to play the best players in the world, and especially a team like Manchester United that you grow up watching in the Champions League and the English Premier League," Segares, a defender, said. "Players like Rooney, Nani. I think we're all pretty excited and blessed to have the opportunity."

Segares isn't alone in looking forward to Saturday.

"It's good to play one of the best teams in the world, get the crowd out there and into the game," forward/midfielder Oduro said. "It's a great team to play. They're the best team in England. We'll be the underdogs. We're just going to have fun, make the fans happy, see some of the stars. It's a fun day."

Added interim coach/technical director Frank Klopas, something of a world traveler himself: "It's an exciting week, playing against one of the best teams in the world. For sure, it's exciting."

Manchester United has been to Chicago before -- just last year, though that was only for a Toyota Park training session -- and AC Milan brought its star-studded roster to the area in 2010 also, for a match. Chicago has become a regular stop on European clubs' summer trips.

And still soccer fans and Fire players alike are buzzing again this week in anticipation.

"It would be more like a dream come true," Oduro said of the prospect of scoring against the Red Devils. "I remember just sitting down and watching them play on TV, and we have the opportunity to play with them on the field. It's amazing. If I'm able to put one in the net, that would be a dream come true. I'll be able to post it that I scored on United."

That might be easier said than done, of course, but it's not as scary as trying to defend against Manchester United.

Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Mame Biram Diouf and Federico Macheda (Javier "Chicarito" Hernandez has yet to join the tour) are all good enough forwards to spook a defender. How will the Fire stop them?

"With 20 players maybe," Segares joked. "We know that they're a very skillful team, skillful players. We're going to have to be pretty sharp. We want to do well. We want to make a statement and win the game, so we have to keep it sharp. Even though they're starting preseason, they've already played in New England. It's going to be tough. We've got to enjoy it and try to have a good game."

It's also a chance to play in front of a huge crowd at Soldier Field.

"I haven't been there since my rookie season," said Segares, who helped the Fire move into Toyota Park in 2006. "It's going to be a good opportunity to go back there and have a packed stadium, 60,000 people."

Many of those people, however, will root for the big-name visitors, not the home team. If the Fire has an advantage it might be in the weather. Forecasts Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN2) call for highs in the 90s again.

"It's going to be as tough for us as for them," Segares said. "I don't think they're used to playing in temperatures like this. They're used to playing in more cooler temperatures, and a 4 p.m. game, the sun is going to be hitting pretty hard, so you've got to get hydrated pretty well."

Yeah, you can be sure the Fire will drink it all in.

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