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Six months late, Fire beat Atlanta United at Soldier Field

Owner Joe Mansueto is more worried about looking forward than what the Fire lost when their Soldier Field return was postponed.

Fabian Herbers (21) and teammates celebrate his goal during Sunday night’s match.
Courtesy of the Fire

More than six months late, the Fire finally hosted Atlanta United at Soldier Field. And instead of it being a gala affair meant to mark the franchise’s return to the city, the Fire’s 2-0 victory against Atlanta on Sunday night was behind closed doors just like every other game in Chicago since the season resumed.

No, the 60,000 empty seats were not how the Fire intended to welcome Atlanta to the lakefront. But when he spoke with the Sun-Times earlier this month, owner Joe Mansueto sounded like he had gotten over any disappointment from what didn’t take place March 21.

“I don’t really think too much about what could’ve happened,” Mansueto said. “You can’t wring your hands over what could’ve been. You kind of have to deal with the reality of what is.”

The on-field reality for the Fire is that they have to overcome missed opportunities from earlier in the season. They made more progress Sunday, winning consecutive matches for the first time this season, backing up a 4-0 rout of Houston on Wednesday.

Goals from Fabian Herbers and Robert Beric along with five saves from Bobby Shuttleworth moved the Fire (4-7-3, 15 points) into 10th place in the Eastern Conference, which would be good for a playoff spot in this year’s expanded format.

“I’m very happy with what I saw,” Fire coach Raphael Wicky said. “Two wins in a row was actually very important for us to come back into the race for the playoffs.”

They also showed more comfort at their new home, winning at Soldier Field for the third time in five tries.

“Overall, we’ve done a pretty good job of making this a place for other teams that it was hard to play against us,” defender Jonathan Bornstein said. “Going forward, we have to continue to do that.”

The Fire’s process of acclimating themselves to their new surroundings was supposed to start March 21 against Atlanta, but concerns about COVID-19 led to the postponement of a game the Fire had hyped for months.

Meanwhile, the Fire have to make progress regardless of the damage the pandemic did to their plans. That’s what Mansueto’s thinking about, not what the franchise lost when their Soldier Field debut was delayed until Aug. 25 against FC Cincinnati.

“I don’t lose sleep over what could’ve been,” Mansueto said. “All businesses are dealing with the pandemic, and I don’t think you can lose sleep over [the postponement]. Just try to deal with the situation at hand, and how can we make it better and how can we continue to improve the team and grow our fan base? Those issues are, I think, the more exciting ones to think about rather than looking back, trying to think about what could’ve happened and it’s a shame it didn’t happen.

“That’s not really a productive way of thinking.”