The March 21 home opener was going to be a milestone moment for the Fire.
After an offseason of mostly well-received changes, the Fire were going to make their Soldier Field return against Atlanta United, one of the franchises they’re hoping to emulate. In front of a crowd expected to top 40,000, the home opener was set to be a celebration of a bright future and a signal for former fans to come back. The event would reward old-time supporters’ faith and whet the appetites of new customers.
All of that will have to wait.
Major League Soccer announced Thursday that it is suspending its season for 30 days because of concerns about the coronavirus. That means the Fire’s game Saturday at Orlando City, the anticipated matchup against Atlanta United and the April 4 visit from the New York Red Bulls have been postponed.
The season could resume April 12 for a scheduled trip to the Bronx to face New York City FC, though the league said it will discuss the next steps “at the appropriate time.” But with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s request that all major teams in Illinois play without fans until May 1, it’s unclear when Fire supporters will see their club in person along the lakefront.
For now, the Fire are scheduled to host Inter Miami on May 9.
“Our clubs were united today in the decision to temporarily suspend our season — based on the advice and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], Public Health Agency of Canada [PHAC] and other public-health authorities, and in the best interest of our fans, players, officials and employees,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a news release. “We’d like to thank our fans for their continued support during this challenging time.”
The announcement is a major blow to the Fire and the franchise’s staff, which has been heavily promoting the home opener since Oct. 8, when the team formalized its move back to Soldier Field.
Beyond just the sales, the game against Atlanta was supposed to heighten the sense of momentum and optimism surrounding the franchise since Joe Mansueto bought out Andrew Hauptman last September. The postponement won’t blot that out, but perhaps no team in MLS lost more Thursday than the Fire.
“We all share in the health and well-being of our community,” Fire president Nelson Rodriguez said in a news release. “We will continue regular dialogue with all city, state, national and league authorities on issues relating to COVID-19 and will provide fans and partners updates accordingly.”
The Fire said all tickets for the March 21 game will be honored for the rescheduled date. The team also said it “will work with ticket holders on appropriate credits or refunds for this and any other games.”
Meanwhile, the Portland Thorns’ preseason tournament, scheduled to take place March 29-April 4, was canceled in accordance with Oregon’s mandate to forbid public gatherings of more than 250 people. The tournament was set to host the Chicago Red Stars, the U.S. women’s under-23 team and OL Reign.
The NWSL 2020 season is still scheduled to begin April 18.
Contributing: Annie Costabile