Steve C. Wilson, Associated Press
Chicago teammates celebrate a goal during the first half. Mexican star Blanco scored once and assisted another time in the Fire's win at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

From his first touch of the ball to his substitution in the 81st minute, Cuauhtemoc Blanco was quite literally the center of attention inside Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The Mexican star is known for being a polarizing figure, and almost everything he did — from scoring his first MLS goal to winning fouls to pulling off tricks — drew simultaneous boos from opposing fans and wild cheers from his personal fans.

However, love him or loathe him, there's no denying Blanco is a dazzling performer.

And he put on quite a show when his new club, Chicago, visited Real Salt Lake Saturday evening. Blanco scored a sensational goal and was bright throughout to lead the Fire to a 2-0 win over Salt Lake.

"(He) puts on a show," said Chicago captain Chris Armas. "(He) does his patented little move with the ball. At the end of the day, though, he really pulls off a lot of plays for us. We really needed a guy like that."

For Armas, a veteran U.S. National teamer who's squared off against Blanco many times in the heated U.S.-Mexico rivalry, having Blanco, who made his third MLS appearance against Salt Lake, has been a pleasure.

"He's been fantastic for us," said Armas. "He's really a great competitor, really is a great player. I never got to appreciate him that much in the U.S.-Mexico games because it's just such a hard-fought (game), never great soccer either way — really just a fight.

"But here, every day in practice, his ability to go forward, his vision going forward, he's really one of the best players I've ever played with in that regard."

Armas didn't know quite what to expect from the playmaking midfielder when he arrived, but he says he's been awed since Blanco's first practice.

"He really has the complete package," said Armas. "In our system, he's our No. 10, and it makes you that much more willing to work for."

Against RSL, Blanco certainly lived up to his reputation.

Attempting to play behind Real's midfield diamond, Blanco dictated Chicago's attack. Along the way, he scored and unleashed plenty of tricks — some which worked and some which didn't.

Blanco's first MLS goal came with two minutes to play in the first half, and it was truly what Spanish-speaking audiences call a "Golazo," which basically means a breathtaking goal.

From distance on the left side, Blanco found himself in a small pocket of space. He pounced, firing an upstoppable shot into the far upper-right corner.

Huge pockets of fans wearing yellow — the color of Blanco's former Mexican club side, Club America — erupted throughout Rice-Eccles Stadium when the sensational goal flew in, It might not quit have been Beckham mania, but the Latino community turned out in force to see the 34-year-old, who is a huge celebrity in Mexico.

Armas says he welcomes the addition of all the new, ahem, Chicago fans that will be at away games.

"It's good because I think we're puttin' out a good product," said Armas. "Hopefully we'll be able to gain support (for) soccer."

Of his fans, Blanco said through a translator: "I'm happy because a big part of the United States is Mexican, and I'm really happy with it because they give me a lot of support."


E-mail: drasmussen@desnews.com