By Lou Bruno
Since Christmas Day when my wife and daughter gave me a Fire jersey as a Christmas gift I waited for the Fire home opener for 2009 as my first chance to show my team pride at Toyota Park. Little did I expect that we would have better weather on Christmas Day then on April 6, 2009. Over the winter I prepared myself with attention to the MLS off season news on this site and carefully put together a ticket package with the Fire office (very helpful by the way) to meet my schedule. The season opened with two road games, a win in Dallas and a tie in DC., before coming home to face the Red Bulls of New York. Not bad, pretty good start really, and finally the day would be at hand to show off my jersey, so I thought.
I followed the weather all week long and was in despair “wet snow” was called for. How could this happen. All day Saturday a great day in Chicago, 50F and clear, I prayed for the weather to hold out another day. No luck, Sunday dawned with clouds, wind, and rain. Would going to Toyota Park be worth the hour drive from my house? Well the sun came out mid-morning and it was bearable, so just after 12:00pm I dressed for a Bear game but with my Fire jersey buried underneath layers of clothes and made the drive. I arrived just in enough time to park and get to my seat and despite the wind chill and some rain covered head to foot felt great seeing the field for the first time this year. What a welcome feeling back home. The game started. The game would be affected by the weather, clearly the empty seats even in Section 8, (Fire hardcore supporters) showed the crowd would be sparse due to the conditions.
How the players handled the cold I do not know. Both the Fire and Red Bull players deserve high marks for just taking the field of play. We in the stands were not doing very well. A slow start to the game and then in the 15th minute a red card to John Thorrington. Bad call if you ask me, but with the Fire down to ten men, how long would I last. The 30 minute mark was a minimum in my mind. So, I waited and expected the Fire to soon be down to the Red Bulls. A few close calls, shots cleared by the defense at the last minute but at the 30 minute mark Brian McBride gets a through ball and gets everyone a bit excited. So, I give it a few more minutes. Now let me indicate that I had on snow boots, a sweater, two jackets, heavy pants, a hat and hood and was still cold. A few drops of rain were coming down when a foul was called on the Red Bulls. Free kick for the Fire, the ball is launched into the wind and hangs up, the NY keeper is forced out of position by the elements, and the ball comes down onto a Red Bull who puts it directly at the feet of Marco Pappa who then puts it in the net! Fire ahead and I’m warm again for a few minutes. So, I manage to make it to halftime, but then I and a number of other people head out to the lot. I did my duty, a drive home following the game on Spanish language radio and my i-phone.
Thanks to Jon Busch, the Fire defense, and the wind at the back of the Fire, they hold on to a 1-0 lead and turn it into a victory. Three frozen points for the men in red! Knowing that the Fire gained the full points made the day worth the time in the cold. Yet, I asked myself what could all involved done to make the day any different. Nothing really, you have to feel bad for the teams, the Fire management, the fans, and the people working at the Park for having to deal with conditions that are uncommon even for a Bears game. I said to myself more than once what if MLS had a winter schedule. Simply the league would not exist. A spring, summer and fall schedule is the only kind that can allow crowds to come out in Chicago and other northern cities.
Well, I’ll not be at Toyota Park until May and let’s hope it’s at least clear and 50 by then. Until then my couch, ESPN and FSC will do nicely to follow the Fire and the rest of the MLS.