If anybody needed a reminder of what Saturday night’s game meant to the Fire, all they needed to do was look up at the 400 level on the west side of Soldier Field and see WELCOME HOME spelled out in giant red-and-white letters.
For the first time since moving back to the lakefront and 13 months later than expected, the Fire opened their doors to fans. The Fire’s 2-2 tie with the New England Revolution was witnessed by a crowd of 8,102. The team sold seats in the stadium’s 100 and 200 levels and on the east side’s 300 level.
“We’re [very] eager, we’re excited,” Fire fan Priscilla Rocha said before the game. “It’s a little different than what we normally do. We normally get to tailgate with a bigger group, but it’s exciting.”
As Rocha alluded to, the event wasn’t quite a typical game.
Fans were socially distanced and had specific entry times and gates to access the stadium. They had designated concession stands and restrooms in their respective seating zones. In a nod to the times, Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady presented the match ball.
But in some ways, the night was comfortably normal.
Fans behind the south goal banged on drums and gave the match a familiar soundtrack. The Fire goals from Robert Beric and Luka Stojanovic were greeted with cheers while fans waved flags. When the Revolution scored their goals and Beric missed a potential go-ahead chance in the 85th minute, the supporters groaned.
Though it wasn’t quite the same as the planned 2020 gala event when the Fire were supposed to host Atlanta United in their return to Soldier Field, it was a chance for fans to see their team again. And for Phil Spina and his son, Jeremy, it was finally an opportunity to benefit from the season tickets they bought for the first time last year.
“We were going to come to the first game, and it was of course cancelled,” Phil said outside Soldier Field before the match. “We waited a year to use our season tickets. We’re ready to see some soccer. I’m just excited to be able to see a match in person.”
That excitement was likely shared by the league and the Fire’s business side, which relentlessly hyped the move to Soldier Field before last season. No, the Fire can’t judge whether their marketing efforts are having the intended effect just yet, but they began to make up for some of the lost time in 2020.
“[Owner Joe Mansueto] and his staff are very, very, very mindful of recapturing the momentum they had going into ‘20 and being able to show the entire league and the -soccer community both in Chicago [and] that part of the country but around North America that the Chicago Fire can be really, really relevant in one of America’s most important cities,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said last week. “I believe that they will be able to do that.”
NOTES: Mauricio Pineda, who started every game last year, was on the game-day roster but didn’t play. After playing just 200 minutes last year because of injury, Johan Kappelhof paired in central defense with captain Francisco Calvo.
• The Ring of Fire was on display after being absent last year. The names were displayed on the facing between the 100 and 200s levels -behind the north and south goals.