It was a perfect day in Chicago. Warm temperatures and brilliant sunlight lead most people in my suburban Chicago neighborhood to get out in the garden and start their spring clean-up. When my wife told my neighborhood I had tickets for the Fire home opener vs. San Jose, she was envious. I am a veteran of many an opening day for Chicago sports teams and have not been so excited for a team’s opener since sometime when Walter Payton was wearing a Bears uniform.
Now if you’re attending a sporting event in Chicago in April dress like January and you can’t go wrong. You can always take off things but cannot put on a jacket you never brought. However, my Fire jersey was still proudly displayed.
The drive to Toyota Park in Chicago’s southwest suburban area takes an hour for me. I do not mind, especially since due to the magic of the iPhone I can listen to MLS pre-game from out-of-town stations. Chicago still lacks an English radio broadcast for Fire games.
When I reached the exit for Toyota Park I was shocked but pleased that traffic was backed up. Could this be a Fire game that backs up traffic? Well yes and no, there was a crowd going into the park but also just a lot of other traffic on this wonderful spring day and more than a few poor drivers. After clearing the traffic jam I shortly came upon Toyota Park and instantly felt a surge of pride. The parking lot had never appeared so filled to me! Could soccer finally be on the sports radar?
Parking is normally very easy at Toyota Park and, despite the crowd, was once again. Fifteen dollars will get you in (no value) but by this point you’re happy to pay. Having taken longer to arrive then planned I made my way through the parking lot filled with tailgaters to the gate. I climbed the stairs to the stadium area and came upon the beautiful site of the green field, the video screen welcoming everyone to opening night, and packed concourses of people lining up for food.
Now for the important choice of the evening. Which should be my first food selection of the new season? My favorite place to eat is the grill located at the southeast corner of the stadium. It took me a minute to run down the new menu options but the choice was a polish sausage with grilled onions and peppers. Not bad.
After that I moved through the sea of red to find the free gift booth for season ticket holders. It was a Fire knit cap, good quality but not too likely to be worn by this middle aged guy. Fire fans love wearing their team jerseys, more so than any other fans in Chicago. Everyone, young and old is dressed in Fire wear of some sort. My preference is for the away white jersey and it seemed a bit out of place, the vast majority preferred red. After waiting in line for my free gift, I made the trip to my seat — my home for the season and, while pleased, I quickly decided the other end of the row would have been a better choice. My choice. I’ll deal with it.
Finally game time. Well here is where the perfect night and day is ruined. The Fire missed a good number of chances in the first half including a clear open net by Collins John to be tied nil-nil at halftime. Okay, the Fire controlled the game limiting the chances of the visiting San Jose Earthquakes, and should be ahead. Everyone felt certain a goal would be forthcoming for the home team.
When San Jose did have a chance in the first 45 minutes the Fire defense did seem disorganized. I was worried and sure enough the disorganization took its toll when early in the second half the Fire defense gifted San Jose a goal when the keeper Dykstra became entangled with his defense and fell to the ground leaving an open net for San Jose to tap the ball in. I was still tweeting my displeasure on my iPhone when shortly thereafter Marco Pappa blasted an equalizer into the San Jose net. There was hope, well at least until the 81st minute when Bobby Convey found Ike Opara having his lunch in front of the Fire net and easily made the score 2-1. It ended that way.
I’ll save by displeasure for the on the field play and coaching decisions for some other time and place. However, it appears after 3 games the team is not responding well to new coach Carlos de los Cobos style of play. The record opening day crowd of over 20,000 people left disappointed. Tradition has it that after a bitter defeat you vent your anger by calling the post-game radio talk show. With no English radio this is not possible in Chicago. What was a decent substitute was due again to the magic of the iPhone I called up the broadcast of the Seattle Sounders game to hear an exciting finish in my car on the way home and enjoy their post-game show.
So after an hour drive home delayed by a traffic accident and train crossing I returned. Lucky next week the Fire are on the road. I do not think I would do things all over again next week end after this defeat and it will take a week and a win to re-ignite my Fire. The Fire front office and the fans made it a special opening night. The team should be alarmed by its play. No matter how nice the night and how great the crowd and how tasty the food, wins bring the crowds and the Fire have none after 3 games.