This is what the Fire signed up for when they moved back to Soldier Field.
Released last week, the Fire’s 2021 schedule is stuffed with home games during the first half of the season. After mid-August, the Fire are at home only four times the rest of the year as the Bears take precedence on the lakefront.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the 2020 schedule was similar. And as long as the Fire and Bears share Soldier Field, the Fire’s seasons will be structured in the same way.
How well the Fire navigate the first half will determine the tenor of the second half. If they get off to a hot start, the road matches near the end of the year might not be as crucial. If they struggle at home in the early portion, the Fire will need more points on the road, where they never won last year.
“We’re taking it game by game,” Fire coach Raphael Wicky said. “We have a lot of home games in the first 19 or 20 games. … So that’s something we can also turn it around and say it’s very positive. At the end of the day, it’s game by game, and that’s what we’re doing.”
All of the first-half home games will only be a positive if the Fire take advantage of the schedule. If they don’t, they’ll be looking at a tough second half.
And the Fire need no reminders of how many true away games they won last year.
“We know the responsibility we have with playing at home,” defender Miguel Navarro said through a translator. “We know that at home we can’t drop points. We have to do our best to win every game at home if possible or as many as possible, and we also know that we have an account pending with our road games. Last year we didn’t get the points that we wanted to on the road, and this year we’re ready.”
Even without any true away wins — the Fire won once at the MLS is Back Tournament in Florida — the 2020 team barely missed the playoffs. But unlike last year, when the Eastern Conference had a generous 10-team postseason, this season’s format has reverted to seven qualifiers.
So not only will the Fire need to improve, they’ll need to jump from 11th to seventh just to reach the postseason for the first time since 2017.
Playing well at home early would really help.
“The expectations are clear, to get as many points as possible, to win our home games and to get as many points out on the road,” Navarro said. “We have that account pending with our road games where we didn’t get as many points as we wanted to last year, and so this year we want to win on the road and add up points so that we can get to the playoffs, and then from there on, have a good campaign.”