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9 Years Since Attending a MLS Game: What The Experience Felt Like

the gaffer chicago fire toyota park 9 Years Since Attending a MLS Game: What The Experience Felt Like

The last time I attended a Major League Soccer game was nine years ago when San Jose Earthquakes beat Miami Fusion 1-0 in South Florida to advance to the 2001 MLS Cup Final. Although we didn’t know it at the time, the game ended up being Miami’s last ever MLS appearance. It also marked my last MLS game until this past weekend when I visited Chicago for business meetings and visited Toyota Park to see the Fire’s last home game of the 2010 season. With both Chicago and DC United out of the playoff race, my expectations weren’t that high.

On an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon in Chicago, it seemed like the perfect day to watch a game of professional soccer. So after having my first taste of Chicago-style deep dish pizza in downtown Chicago, I headed in a car toward Bridgeview with good friend and MLS Talk blogger Lou Bruno. Immediately after exiting the highway, the traffic was backed up on the roadway which was a promising sign especially since this was Brian McBride’s last home game for his local team.

From the moment the car entered the parking lot of Toyota Park to the minute we left, I must say that I was stunned at how wonderful the Chicago Fire experience was and how everything was so well organized. The view of the stadium perched on an incline above the parking lot was a simple but beautiful sight to see. Walking into the stadium and up the steps, it was encouraging to see that there were plenty of Fire employees and security on hand to handle the crowds. Walking straight to our seats in section 125, the first thing that struck me was how there wasn’t a bad seat in the stadium. The seats feel close up to the action, while the open lower bowl created a comforting and relaxing feeling.

As the sun shone on a beautiful autumn day, I watched the pre-match buildup as fireworks exploded and teams were announced. Looking around the crowd, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many families and young children sitting down and preparing themselves for the game. It was the type of environment that if I lived near Chicago I would bring my wife and children to each week. And then within minutes, the game kicked off.

With the Fire and DC United having nothing to play for other than pride, it wasn’t surprising that the game started off slowly. During breaks in the game, I paid closer attention to the atmosphere around the ground. There were still a long line of people filing into the stadium but the seats were beginning to fill. But what stood out most for me in the crowd was the infamous Section 8 supporters group who were positioned behind the north goal. This was a group of passionate supporters who would make many European clubs blush. They didn’t stop cheering at all and the passion and noise they exhibited was beautiful to see and hear. As well as singing Chicago Fire songs throughout most of the game, they also brought the west side and east side of the stadium into the experience with an impressive call and response chant.

Down on the field, Chicago Fire created more opportunities to score than Ben Olsen’s side but the team in red and white was unable to break down the DC United goal. Halftime quickly arrived, so Lou and I took a walk around the stadium’s concourse. Everything seemed quite orderly from the long lines of people buying merchandise to the soccer fans queueing for food. After walking around to the south east corner of the ground, I was pleasantly surprised to find an Illinois Soccer Wall Of Fame against a wall as well as display chronicling the history of soccer in Chicago.

Returning to my seat, the second half kicked off and the teams continued to battle each other as the game became more physical. While the game continued meandering along, I saw a few more things that impressed me. First, when the players from the Chicago Fire substitutes bench were instructed to do a warm-up behind the goal, every single one of the players purposefully walked around the inside edge of the stadium making sure they shook everyone’s hands or gave them a high-five. It’s a wonderful example to me of a small thing that makes a big difference. Obviously the Fire players care about their supporters and they went out of the way to show their gratitude even if it was in the smallest of ways.

Second, I watched as a Chicago Fire employee took her clipboard and walked down the aisle near where I sat. She made it a point of speaking with soccer fans who were on her list. I presume she was asking about season ticket renewals for next season, but interacting on a one-on-one basis with a very human touch was endearing to witness. The Fire could have easily gone for the cheaper method of sending e-mails or letters to season ticket holders, but the fact that they were making an effort to sit down and talk to each person was wonderful to see.

Third and finally, I was impressed by the Chicago Fire dog mascot who was led around the stadium by his master so that the kids could stop and pet the animal. Going to a soccer game is fun for a child, but seeing them getting excited to play with a dog was very touching.

With two minutes to go before the game ended, Brian McBride was substituted thus allowing the crowd to give him a standing ovation as he walked off the field. To see one of the greatest American soccer players ever play his last home game in front of his local crowd was brilliant to see. McBride personified everything that is great about the best American players. Whether it was in the Premier League, MLS or playing for his national team, McBride always poured his heart and soul into his performance, and oftentimes sacrificed his body for score headers or challenge for balls.

Before I knew it, the 90 minutes was over and the referee blew his whistle for full time during the 0-0 game. Chicago Fire had the slight edge in the game. Particularly impressive was the performance by Patrick Nyarko who, during the game, continued to bomb down the middle of the park as he advanced toward goal. He had a couple of decent chances, but ultimately he came up short when it mattered the most. Also impressive for Chicago was Andrew Dykstra who made a few decisive saves from DC United even if they were against the run of play.

My experience of attending a Chicago Fire MLS game was better than I could have ever imagined. It was plain to see that the Fire have spent a lot of time and attention to the stadium experience. And after attending hundreds of professional soccer games, I can honestly say that my experience at Toyota Park was one of the most pleasant ones I’ve ever had.

But at the end of the day it was a shame that the whole reason everyone attended the game wasn’t better, and that was the soccer played on the field. Yes, neither team had anything to play for and the game ended 0-0, but the level of soccer played was far below what I remember seeing nine years ago when there were far more talented players and better soccer played on the field.

Still, seeing a soccer game in person is always an enjoyable experience for me. There weren’t any goals scored, but even if the Fire can’t find a spark on the field next season, it’s encouraging to know that the Chicago team will be at least continue to be a success off the field no matter what happens.

This entry was posted in Leagues: Major League Soccer, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
View all posts by Christopher Harris →

19 Responses to 9 Years Since Attending a MLS Game: What The Experience Felt Like

  1. Daniel Feuerstein says:

    I’m glad that you were able to attend an MLS Match. I have to say that it was such a touching moment that all the Fire supporters came to see Brian McBride in his final match at home.

  2. Matt says:

    Strange – nearly everyone I know who has been attending matches since the league started in 1996 talks about how much better the overall quality of the soccer is now compared to then. Of course, a match between the MLS’ bottom feeder and a club already out of the playoffs may not be a particularly good gauge of the quality of the league overall.

    I’ve seen a few turgid games this year at Red Bull Arena (the 0-0 against DC stands out in my mind), but on the whole I’ve never been less than entertained and the quality of the soccer I’ve seen has been quite good, if not quite at the level of a top European league.

    • Pete H says:

      Reread the 2nd to last paragraph, he said that the standard of play was higher THEN as compared to now. It seems that the old imports from the late 90′s were far more talented than what is being put on display currently. I have to admit, while the younger American players might be a tad more athletic, the first players to don an MLS shirt back in the league’s inception far outclass them in almost all aspects of the game… sadly.

  3. Sam says:

    Yeah, the soccer product is better than it was in ’96. Small sample size.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Sam, consider the rosters of the two teams I saw on Saturday versus the same teams in 2001.

      In 2001, DC United had Raul Diaz Arce, Chris Albright, Bobby Convey, Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Ben Olsen, Eddie Pope and others.

      Chicago had Chris Armas, DeMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra, Diego Gutierrez, Dema Kovalenko, Jesse Marsch, Peter Nowak, Mike Sorber, Hristo Stoichkov, Zach Thornton, Josh Wolf, Eric Wynalda and others.

      You tell me which are better… the 2001 or 2010 rosters .

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • Charles says:

        You can throw out names all you want,
        And BTW I loved a LOT of those names.

        BUT it doesn’t tell the whole story…..
        Which team is better the one with Ljungberg or Sturgis rounding out the mid-field.

        Sounders are 10 wins 3 ties and 1 loss since benching Ljungberg.
        And were pathetic in all but one game with him.

      • Jamie says:

        Hristo Stoichkov? Piotr Nowak? Mike Sorber? I don’t think you’re making the point you think you are.

      • soccerreform says:

        I’m gushing about the gaffer.. Nail. Hit. Head.

  4. DAN says:

    Yea i haven’t been to an MLS game since 2003. I used to live in Columbus and me and my friends would go to Crew games all the time. Hell My dad even went to a few and he’s not really into soccer. He did it because i love soccer. Well hopefully the NASL experience will be fun when San Antonio gets their team.

  5. Lysander says:

    I would be annoyed if some team or stadium employee came up with their clipboard to ask me a few questions during the game.

  6. Tom says:

    Two teams out of the play-offs playing before a good crowd should not tie 0-0. They should be throwing bodies forward. Some MLS coaches take their jobs too seriously- this entertainment and your out of the play-offs! We want goals!

    • The Gaffer says:

      I was surprised too. I thought it would be an open-ended goal fest but it ended up being the opposite.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  7. Charles "MLS homer" says:

    I watch those revered crowds in England and think one word….OVERRATED.

    I will take a Section 8, Sounder’s Emerald City over those crowds any day.

    I think it was Liverpool, it was a bunch of suits sitting on their hands.
    Watch a Sounder’s game, you won’t see any sitting.

  8. RMS says:

    I just attended my first MLS game – a Rapids game at DSG Park in Denver – and had almost identical observations about what a great fan experience it is. Great stadium, great staff, rabidly noisy supporters section, etc. And in the Rapids case, watching a team playing playoff-quality football. It’s really something special.

  9. soccerreform says:

    “but the level of soc­cer played was far below what I remem­ber see­ing nine years ago when there were far more tal­ented play­ers and bet­ter soc­cer played on the field.”

    Who’s gonna write the quintessential right track/wrong track MLS piece? Let’s go!

    • Charles says:

      I will write it, here goes:

      YOU ARE INSANE IF YOU THINK MLS IS GOING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION.

      That is all, except I can’t wait for the playoffs, they are going to be incredible.

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