Major League Soccer Eastern Conference
Toyota Park, Bridgeview
This article was written by, and starring, Adrian 'Drunkasa' Lord.
When we think of American football, we think of a sport where a man’s foot and a pigskin ball rarely meet each other, and scoring a “touchdown” involves no physical touching down of anything or anyone. Major League Soccer is our football, but their way.
The evening’s entertainment was to be Chicago Fire’s home opener against title hopefuls New England Revolution. It has to be said that “Fire” is, although a historically relevant team nickname, somewhat of a strange choice. The team was founded October 8, 1997 on the 126th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. To me it seems strange to nickname a team after a disaster that almost wiped out the city. I’m sure that if New Orleans had an MLS team they wouldn’t call themselves the Hurricanes.
As with any good sporting jolly, the night began in a bar, but no ordinary bar - The Globe, (ussoccer.com’s “Best Soccer Bar in the US 2007”) which conveniently happens to be the local to my good friends Nichole, Jess and Marty. One of the main contributing factors towards The Globe’s prestigious title was the transport to the purpose built Toyota Park, home of the Chicago Fire. For the bargain price of $10, you have yourself a return trip to the stadium in Bridgeview in a classic American school bus and as much PBR (local cheap brew, not too pleasant) as you can drink.
As you would expect with football and alcohol, the atmosphere on the bus was excitable and well natured. In the heavy evening rush hour traffic fans were offering directional advice to the bus driver in the form of song: “Lake Shore Drive, na na na, Lake Shore Drive, na na na!” Not that he took any notice of the rowdy drunkards behind him. Having impressed/bored the chap next to me with tales of the Hawks’ glorious cup run, it came up in conversation that this was my first Fire game and my posse were still to buy tickets. A few moments later and quick chat with The Globe owner from new acquaintance, and I had four tickets in my hand free of charge. “Best Soccer Bar in the US 2008” is definitely on the cards.
As we walked into the stadium and had free programmes thrust into our hands (I was really taking to the “free” theme), I was expecting the atmosphere to be as plastic as the $1 hotdog I called dinner. With most American sports I’ve been to, I’ve often found the atmosphere to be pre-prescribed by a giant jumbotron, provoking the crowd into standardised chants of “Go INSERT TEAM NAME HERE, go!” or the entirely different “Let’s go WHOEVER, let’s go!” Fortunately (and surprisingly) this was not the case.
The atmosphere was awesome. Move over plastic Premiership, MLS is the top flight football for me. In Chicago, 26% of the population is Hispanic/Latino, and it was these folk who made up the bulk of the hardcore behind-the-goal fans. Known as “Section 8” these guys had flags of the USA, Chicago, Mexico, Chicago Fire, along with banners, fireworks and firecrackers. With a refreshing complete disregard for seat (or in fact bench spot) allocation, there was lots of chanting, some of which in Spanish, jumping on benches, rocking, burning, drinking and fun, all lead in the traditional Latino way of a 15 year old lad with his back to the game.
The chants were surprisingly original too, with examples such as: “East side, whose the best?” with the east stand replying: “Fire!” The only strange thing about Section 8 is that it was actually located in Section 118. I have since been reliably informed that Section 8 was the equivalent location at Soldier Field (home of Chicago Bears) where the Fire played in their earlier days.
As the teams walked on to the pitch lead by Sparky the Dalmatian a huge roar erupted. Looking along the teamsheet I only recognized one name: Cuauhtémoc Blanco. LA Galaxy have their Beckham, Fire have their Blanco. All I remembered of the former Mexico international was his long blonde hair, and the trick where he’d trap the ball in his feet and jump over defenders back in France 98. Now he was captain of the Fire.
The Fire got into action nice and early with a well-worked goal from Chad Barrett in the fourth minute. Shortly after a hotheaded Jeff Larentowicz got himself sent off for the Revs, and Tomasz Frankowski capitalised on the disruption to give the Fire a surprise 2-0 lead. Although a little unattractive at times, the standard of play was not bad at all, if Fire played in England I’d put them in League One. Just above Swansea. A Blanco penalty and another from Frankowski made it a well deserved but shock 4-0 half time lead for the Fire. A solid defensive display in the second half from Chicago kept the final score at 4-0, a well-earned victory for the Fire.
As the 15,000 who’d braved the Illinois wind and rain streamed out of the stadium, a fireworks display worthy of Guy Fawkes himself was let off behind Section 8 (or should I say 118). What’s “major” about Major League Soccer? Quite a bit actually!
Chicago Fire website
New England Revolution website