Having grown up in Winnetka and attended Northwestern, Fire midfielder Chris Ritter doesn’t need to be told much about the geography of Chicago. He knows Chicago is a big sprawling place, and certain pockets can feel very isolated from others.
Toyota Park and Bridgeview, a near southwestern suburb, isn’t that far away from the center of the city. But it isn’t close at all to the North Side and northern suburbs, perhaps causing some disconnect between the Fire and that part of the area.
But maybe some of that went away Wednesday when they held their first training session at The PrivateBank Fire Pitch. Located at Talman Ave. just off Addison St., the facility won’t replace Bridgeview as the club base but it could be a strong North-Side billboard for the team.
“I think it’s huge. I look back to growing up and – not what was lacking – but what wasn’t available, it was a way for the Fire to kind of touch the northern suburbs,” Ritter said. “It’s a trek to come from Evanston down to Bridgeview, and I think they lose some fans for sure. So having this facility gives them a great way to connect more frequently with that fan base, which are definitely big Fire fans.”
Plans for the facility, originally called the Chicago Fire Soccer Center before a December naming-rights deal, were unveiled in Dec. 2013. Featuring an inflatable dome, it’s expected to be used year-round by youth and recreational clubs and the Fire could practice there before games on artificial-turf fields.
The complex isn’t done – the planned 15,000-square foot building hasn’t yet been built and the Fire’s “dressing room” Wednesday was just a circle of chairs beyond the playing surface – but it’s been hosting pick-up games since October. Recreation leagues began Dec. 1, and now the center has hosted its first Fire practice.
“It’s definitely a platform to get our name and our brand out there and get more kids interested in playing the game, and hopefully fans of the Fire,” forward Quincy Amarikwa said. “Stuff like this only helps to build soccer.”
Fire coach Frank Yallop knows that too. He said the training center is “a massive statement that we want to be all over Chicago and around this area.” But being a coach, he’s also concerned with the practical advantages of the complex, not just what it means to the business side of the franchise.
“Depending on the weather, obviously, it’s fantastic to have this to come to,” Yallop said. “The surface is excellent, massive size, so we can get a lot of work done here. It’s very good for us.”