On the surface, the most unusual aspect of the game Saturday night at SeatGeek Stadium was the 59-minute weather delay.
Before the Fire’s 2-1 loss to FC Cincinnati, youth soccer teams played on the field as is customary. Fans tailgated in the surrounding parking lots and braved one of the hottest days of the summer. The crowd cheered when the Fire walked onto the field, and supporter groups behind both goals lit red flares as kickoff approached.
Of course, this scene won’t be as common in Bridgeview next season.
On Tuesday, the Fire announced they have agreed to an amended stadium lease with Bridgeview. For $65.5 million, the Fire will have the right to host games outside of Bridgeview, and it’s expected they will make Soldier Field their home next season.
So while this game — other than the weather delay — was a run-of-the-mill affair, it also served as a countdown to the end of a portion of Fire history. After Saturday, the Fire have six regular-season games, a July 23 Leagues Cup game and, if they go on a long winning streak, maybe one postseason game remaining with the southwest suburb as their home.
After that, it could be the end of the Fire’s time at Bridgeview, which began in June 2006 at the former Toyota Park. Since then, the Fire claimed the 2006 U.S. Open Cup and came close to returning to the MLS Cup in 2009 but have slipped from their perch as one of U.S. soccer’s top teams to the frustration of their supporters.
That doesn’t mean all reminders of the stadium will be bad. The fans have built friendships and communities while watching the team and take away indelible personal memories despite the recent struggles.
“We have formed a community here over the years, and we’ve had a lot of memories here,” said Nicole Hack, the chair of the Section 8 supporters group. “I know, as challenging as it is for some of us to get here, there is a sad aspect to all of this.”
Hack feels this way despite being in favor of the team’s departure from Bridgeview.
“I agree that getting into the city is the best thing, but I also think we’ve formed a lot of memories here,” Hack said. “Half of the Fire’s [existence] has been played at this stadium, so we’ve been through a lot here, even though there have been some bad moments and good moments here.”