Chicago Fire make their long-awaited return to Soldier Field


Photo courtesy of the Chicago Fire

The Chicago Fire made their return to Soldier Field on Aug. 25 against FC Cincinnati.

The last time the Chicago Fire stepped on the pitch at Soldier Field, Chicago was still on a high following the White Sox World Series title and the Cubs were another more than a decade away from breaking their championship drought.

The team’s last game took place on Oct. 21. 2005 against D.C. United in a conference semifinal. Nearly 15 years later, the Fire made their triumphant return as they took on and beat FC Cincinnati, 3-0.

During that span, a lot has changed. The team has gone through ownership changes with Joe Mansueto, the majority owner of Morningstar, Inc, now the man in charge. A number of players have donned the Fire jersey with the likes of Freddie Ljungberg, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Bastian Schweinsteiger having come and gone.

When the team first moved to Bridgeview to play in what was then Toyota Park, the move was heralded as the Fire now had a stadium of their own.

“The funny thing is, in 2006 when the Fire first moved away, most of us were happy that we had our own soccer-specific stadium for the team to call home,” said Patrick McCraney, the managing editor at Hot Time in Old Town. “Back then, moving to what was then Toyota Park felt right. This year, moving back to Soldier Field felt right.”

The return to Soldier Field was seen as a necessary one given the Fire are in the middle of a rebuild both on and off the pitch. In addition to being under new ownership and a new manager in Raphael Wicky, the club also decided on a rebrand that saw them unveil a new team crest.

Despite winning their first game back, the win felt bittersweet in a way. According to the club they had sold more than 60,000 tickets ahead of what was supposed to be their first home match back on March 21 against Atlanta United. Because of COVID-19, that match was postponed and their home debut against Cincinnati had no fans in attendance.

The Fire undoubtedly had planned a number of events for the game back in March that had to be scrapped. They still had things planned for the Cincinnati game but on a much smaller scale.

According to Jhamie Chin, director of communications for the Fire, some of the things the team had planned were the following:

  • Wall of Honor with the Section 8 brick located in the players’ tunnel
  • Player tunnel features arts representing the 77 Chicago neighborhoods
  • Tarps in the stadium highlighting Black Lives Matter, Frontline Workers, Masks and PLAYS Foundation
  • Supporter Groups displaying banners and tifo on the south end of the stadium
  • Brand new set of videos and graphics

“Also, there will be no special guests as there are many restrictions in place,” said Chin. “We will only have a limited number of working folks in the venue on matchday.”

However, since the team’s first home game, things have somewhat changed. Owner Joe Masueto and his family attended the Cincinnati game as well as the one against the New England Revolution.

The Fire are also exploring the option of having the players’ families attend home games.

It would be a welcome addition and perhaps provide a bit of normalcy even without supporters in attendance.

Fans, particularly in soccer, can enhance a game both for those in attendance and those watching at home. Supporter groups also had planned events that they were forced to put on hold.

“We did have an event we were planning to go ahead with,” said Phil Bridges, co-founder of the Black Fires supporters group. “It was going to encompass a couple different Black supporters groups/fans across all of U.S. soccer.”

The move back to Soldier Field means a lot to both fans and the team. Leading up to the match, the manager and players talked about their excitement about the return and the club put out a lot of content on social media to hype up the match. 

“It means a lot to have the team back in the center of the city. Makes it even more enjoyable when we are able to go back to games and plan around it,” said Bridges.

As for the team, even with the uncertainty of fans and ticket revenue, it still is a step in the right direction to get back in the minds of Chicago sports fans.

“I really think the Fire fell off the radar for Chicago sports fans over the last decade,” said McCraney. “In the first few years in Bridgeview, especially after Cuauhtemoc Blanco got there, the stadium was routinely full. Since then, the team was mostly bad, fans got tired of the trek to Bridgeview, and the Fire disappeared from a lot of people’s minds. The new owner, Joe Mansueto, clearly wants to change that as quickly as possible.”

In 2005, the Fire were one win away from reaching the MLS final. While they’ve had moments of glory since then, the last few seasons have been marked by disappointment. By moving back to Soldier Field, it is the beginning of a new era for the Fire. One they hope is marked with sustained success.ago