Since joining the club in July 2019, defender Jonathan Bornstein has endeared himself to Fire supporters with his experience, leadership and solid play along the back line.
But that isn’t the only reason the fan base has bonded with the 36-year-old veteran and former member of the United States men’s national team.
“Now that we have the fans back, I’ve always been that type of player who likes to connect with the fans and get them involved,” Bornstein told the Sun-Times. “The more the team shows that we are truly grateful for our fan base and what they bring to the games, it helps create a better relationship between fan and player and the whole game is better because of that.”
Bornstein’s actions show those aren’t just empty words.
After the Fire’s July 3 victory against Atlanta United, Bornstein went into the south stands and banged a drum with a supporters’ group. Then following the Fire’s win against Orlando City as the team applauded its fans, Bornstein grabbed a baby — with permission — that wasn’t more than a few months old and held the child in the grass area separating the goal and the seats, briefly dancing with the youngster to the sounds of the happy crowd.
Connecting with the fans, Bornstein said, is the best part of the game.
“That human moment that you can share between myself the player with the fans . . . we saw it during COVID when there were no fans in the stands and you realized that we were just a bunch of guys kicking a ball around on the field,” Bornstein said. “With the fans there, that’s the actual reason why the game is being played.”
Bornstein, who served as captain in four of the five games during Francisco Calvo’s absence to play with Costa Rica in the Gold Cup, said the supporters are huge motivators for him and that he likes to give back when he can.
“Little things like that are a great way to connect with the people,” Bornstein said. “It’s fun and I enjoy that. I even urge my teammates to constantly be trying to do those things as well.”
As Bornstein mentioned, the Fire are welcoming fans back to their home games for the first time since 2019 when they were still at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview. For Bornstein, it’s even more important to show supporters they are appreciated after a pandemic-marred 2020 that was trying for everybody: the players because they had to compete at empty stadiums, and the fans who weren’t able to attend matches and were forced to quarantine.
“The first thing you want to do is go enjoy yourself at a sporting event,” Bornstein said. “That’s a big part of people’s lives and the entertainment. As a player, now that we have the fans back in the stadium, it’s really important for us to connect with them on any level possible.”