Five months late and not how they envisioned it, Fire set for home opener

Instead of a packed house and joyous event, the Fire’s return to Soldier Field will be in front of no fans due to the pandemic.

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The Fire practiced Monday at Soldier Field.

Courtesy of the Fire

Fire coach Raphael Wicky had three updates Monday.

“First, the player who was confirmed positive on Friday is self-isolating,’’ Wicky said. ‘‘He continues to be asymptomatic and is in good spirits. Second, all other players and staff have continued to test negative, thankfully, and are all asymptomatic. And third, our club followed all the health, safety and medical protocols put in place by Major League Soccer. We have done so the entire time since March. We did it in Orlando in the bubble, and we continue to do it now.”

That Wicky had to make that statement is a part of life these days, especially after the Fire’s announcement late Friday night. It’s another sign that COVID-19 will loom over everything Tuesday night, when the team makes its Soldier Field return against FC Cincinnati.

The Fire were supposed to play at the lakefront March 21 against Atlanta United, but that game was postponed because of the pandemic. Instead, the Fire have had to wait five months for their Soldier Field bow, and there will be no fans in the stands because of safety reasons.

That’s not quite how the Fire envisioned their return, but the pandemic has altered all their plans. 

On the field, the Fire (1-4-1, four points) are still trying to figure out how the pieces fit. Wicky conceded the circumstances have been challenging for the club, which practically rebuilt its roster after last year.

But at the same time, he knows every team is battling unprecedented circumstances.

“It’s obviously challenging and then all the other things where you’re not really getting a rhythm,” Wicky said from Soldier Field, where the Fire practiced Monday. “But I can’t lose too much energy on that. I can’t control that, so that’s just how it is this year. That doesn’t excuse anything, but it’s a fact. It’s not easy, but we work hard. We try to do the best, and we do the best [we can], and that’s all we can control.”

Off the field, the Fire chose not to have fans for their first three home games. Whether they try to open their doors later this year remains to be seen, but that choice will come down to health and safety, the situation in and around Chicago and how the Fire feel about their preparedness to host supporters.

“We had this vision, and we were on track for this fantastic celebration of our sport and our city and our community on March 21,” Fire president Nelson Rodriguez said. “We want, if we can, to still have that moment. That’s not to say we won’t play with fans if we’re limited in attendance, but it is to say if in Phase 2 we go back and invite fans in, we might just scale back what we do because we don’t want to lose that moment that we know was going to happen and we know will happen.”

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