Fire, MLS set to resume season

MLS announced the first phase of the rest of the 2020 season, and the Fire’s home opener is set to be played without fans on Thursday, Aug. 25, at Soldier Field against FC Cincinnati.

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The Fire are scheduled to play their Soldier Field opener Aug. 25

Courtesy of the Fire

The Fire know when they’re finally scheduled to play a home game at Soldier Field. Unsurprisingly, it won’t be in front of fans.

On Saturday, MLS formally announced the first phase of the rest of the 2020 season. This phase includes six games for the Fire, the first coming Aug. 20 at Columbus. Their home opener is set for Aug. 25 against FC Cincinnati.

After operating under some uncertainty after the MLS is Back tournament, Fire coach Raphael Wicky welcomed the news of a schedule.

“It’s exciting, it’s nice,” Wicky said. “We’re all happy that we have a schedule now [and] we have a certain day to work toward.”

For at least the time being, fans won’t be allowed into the lakefront stadium.

Instead of the hoopla and hype that was planned around the Fire’s originally scheduled March 21 home opener against Atlanta, this home opener and the other two games during this phase at Soldier Field will be played without supporters in the seats. Meanwhile, the league is allowing teams and their local jurisdictions to consider crafting plans to allow some supporters.

“With health and safety as our focus, our club has made the decision to play our next three home matches at Soldier Field without fans,” Fire president Nelson Rodriguez said. “The limited number of players, staff and workers who need to be at the stadium on those three days will be provided a safe environment as we continue to focus on their well-being.”

All six Fire matches from this phase are scheduled to kick off at 6:30 p.m. and will air on WGN and ESPN+. After the first two matches, the Fire will play at New York City FC (Aug. 29) and Cincinnati (Sept. 1), before hosting New England (Sept. 6) and Columbus (Sept. 12).

MLS said it will announce the rest of the schedule by early September. The plan is for teams to have played 18 additional games (for a total of 23) by the Nov. 20 start of the playoffs.

Teams will travel on chartered flights or buses, and most trips will be on game days. Team staff and players will be tested every other day, including the day before games. Clubs will be forming partnerships with local certified labs, and guidelines will be provided to help avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19 when not at team facilities.

Wicky said the Fire have not had a positive test. The message to players is to continue being smart by wearing masks and observing social-distancing, a more pressing challenge away from the MLS bubble in Florida.

“I think we’re very disciplined, but it’s very, very important that we keep doing that,” Wicky said. “Especially now, everyone’s back home, and it’s summer. Everyone has a life. We tell the players you’ve got to be very careful, and you’ve got to follow the rules.”

Of course, a schedule and protocols don’t guarantee anything.

On Saturday, MLS commissioner Don Garber stressed that the successful tournament in Florida will guide the league. But he understands this phase will have some challenges and could require flexibility.

“We made the decision to go to Orlando at a time when nobody had any sense that the bubble concept would work,” Garber said. “I think right now, we are confident in what protocols have been put in place. As I’ve said, if it doesn’t work, then we don’t go forward.”

NOTE: Wicky announced that starting goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm is out for the season after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament during practice July 30 and will have surgery Tuesday. Veteran Bobby Shuttleworth is now the team’s first-choice goalie.

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