Most of us know that Saturday’s final score between Chicago Fire and Manchester United was 3-1 in the favor of the reigning champions of the English Premier League. Although this was not the first time that the Red Devils have visited Chicago, it was a world of difference from the last time just about five years ago. The local newspapers carried front page stories about the team’s tour of the US every day of the week. Chicago Fire team personal gave appearances on media outlets that would hardly give soccer a care unless the US reached a World Cup Final. The sports sections carried more than one story every day regarding preparations for the game. “Man United mania” was alive and well in Chicago, building up to a sold-out attendance which did not happen on their last visit.
The front office of the Chicago Fire did a wonderful job to sell the game and gave the fans a spectacular time at the game and in the pre-game events and activities. Giveaways were abundant and it was hard not to come away with a sponsors T-shirt or bag or water bottle. It was clearly party time seeing England’s best come to Chicago to play the Fire on Lake Michigan. Not only Man United fans responded but I saw more Fire fans show up for a game judging by crowd noise and team shirt wearing than this Fire season ticket holder has ever seen. While the weather was not the best (heavy rains and flooding in the early morning followed by steam bath conditions at game time) the fans were in a carnival mood by game time. The home team responded with a great effort in the first half and held a 1-0 lead at half-time. The Fire’s poor MLS record seemed to be forgotten by all and Fire fans felt on top of the world at the end of the 45 minutes.
Eventually when Wayne Rooney and company became serious about the game, no one in the stands felt let down. It was a great show and well worth the ticket price.
I know the MUFC summer tour is designed to sell the Man United brand and plenty of shirts, but many people in Chicago and Fire fans in general came away with the feeling that Fire soccer, the MLS, and the game of world football was the real winner. The game story was the lead in the sports pages and a subject for conversation by many. I proudly put on my game purchased T-shirt the morning after and was greeted by more than one person wanting to know if I made it to the game.
Let me say this, I am not a Man United fan per-se but I have respected the job done by Sir Alex Ferguson to keep his team at the top. Seeing a team in person allows one to much better judge the coaching job and you have to be impressed by how Man United plays the game. They are professionals in every sense of the word. Their movement on the field especially off the ball is the best I have seen, and I have seen in-person the national teams of United States, Mexico, Poland, England, Canada and more plus clubs including Real Madrid, AC Milan, Everton and Chivas of the Mexican League, not to mention various MLS squads. MUFC has earned my respect. None of which stopped me and a good portion of the stadium from booing Wayne Rooney when he tied the game in the second half.
Manchester United proved to be a better salesman then they could have imagined and coming immediately after the attention to the game of soccer in the US from the Women’s World Cup, the world’s game may be close to being a top draw in Chicago’s crowded sports market. Thank you for the visit and come again soon please. In the meantime soccer fans in Chicago, come out to Toyota Park and see the Fire and MLS.