This year’s Memorial Day weekend would certainly be well remembered by most Chicagoans and especially sports fans.
With the Stanley Cup finals starting in Chicago and the MLB St. Louis Cardinals visiting Wrigley Field, and a Presidential visit thrown in, the visit of AC Milan to Toyota Park took somewhat of a back seat. Yet for soccer fans it was the main event of the weekend.
Befitting his status as one of the world’s best known athletes, Ronaldinho stopped by Wrigley Field to perform one of the great honors in the City of Chicago and threw out the first pitch before the Cubs v. Cardinals game on Saturday. He was quoted as saying that all the people love him when he goes to another country. He did not know how right he was on that one.
While this writer has not been a fan of international friendlies, the very name of the Brazilian superstar and his AC Milan squad is such a draw to the soccer fan that watching it on Fox Soccer is not an option. It helps that Fire season ticket holders received the game as a bonus to their ticket package. A warm summer night at Toyota Park in any event is an attraction in and of itself.
The game was nationally televised on Fox Soccer Channel but yet the game became a sellout with over 20,000 fans in attendance. I will not bother with the game details they are unimportant to the story. Suffice to say, AC Milan won 1-0 on a goal early in the 2nd half by Clarence Seedorf.
The Italian side was clearly superior to the Fire and easily prevented what has been a weak offense for Chicago from posing any real threats until later in the game when substitutes abounded. Tactics wise AC Milan played a team defense that allowed the man with the ball to be double and tripled covered but yet did not open up a free man for a shot. Very impressive but you can do that with size and speed on your team that is world class. As for Ronaldinho himself, I must say he seemed a bit upset when his teammates did not get him the ball when he considered himself open. He did acknowledge the crowd who loved him all night and played well into the second half pleasing his army of fans.
As I said above, Ronaldinho said he was loved and he was correct. In the 31st minute a fan in Milan gear ran onto the field and bowed on the ground to the Brazilian legend. There was some contact between the two and Ronaldinho flashed a big smile as the fan was pulled off the field by security. A second fan tried to get onto the pitch at the same time as the first fan but did not get far. Then in the 83rd minute another fan made it onto the pitch but failed to reach Seedorf. About the 71st minute mark a flare appeared in the north end zone stands the home of Section 8. This is not unheard of at a Fire game but the flare in the stand was followed by one thrown onto the pitch toward the Milan keeper. Luckily no one was hurt and the flare was picked up quickly by security personal that had a busy night. It is unknown whether the offender was caught. To say the least it brought back some bad memories.
The night was special from the beginning. A Brazilian band was playing for the crowd in the north end zone. A new Scottish themed pub had a group of ladies in some interesting tartan outfits on the grounds and almost every team and country jersey you can think of was on display. Germany, Italy, England, Brazil, Argentina, USA, Mexico, and Israel national shirts. Add to that Man U., Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid, NE Revolution, LA Galaxy, and of course the visitors AC Milan and host Chicago Fire. As my friend, a former New York City police officer who was attending only his second soccer game ever with me said, the game was less about the soccer but more about the event. A good way to look at it if you ask me.
The first ever visit of the Philadelphia Union takes places next week on Saturday June 5. The Fire then make up a game moved earlier to accommodate the Sister City Cup with the Rapids on June 9. With friendlies included, it will be the 5th and 6th home games in a row for the Fire. After the June 9th game the Fire have only one league home game between then and August 1. The Fire will host a SuperLiga match up at Toyota Park on July 14 vs. Monarcas Morelia.
A recent Chicago fan poll published in the Chicago Tribune over the weekend found Fire fans increasing in number by 9% over a three year period. Good but not great. Needless to say Blackhawk fans increased the most.
Food choice: Too hot to eat. Ice cold lemonade helped.