Goalkeeper Jorge Brava and the Chicago Fire have had a strong start to their 2017 campaign, winning both of their matches (photo credit)
The Fire got some significant copy following their 2-0 win against Real Salt Lake. ESPN FC had an article on Michael de Leeuw and his path from a Coca-Cola bottler in the Netherlands to the captain’s armband for the Fire. The Daily Herald’s Orrin Schwarz had a piece on two local players who made their debut last Saturday. And then there is this article from the Chicago Tribune written by Will Leitch, an Atlanta person who contributes to New Yorker magazine.
Basically, he brags about how Atlanta United FC is doing everything right that the Fire, this coming Saturday’s opponents, are doing wrong. Sure, Atlanta has more than 30,000 season ticket holders, drew 55,297 for their home opener, and some “longtime MLS observers” are calling it ’Seattle South.’ Of course, they have had three years to build up to that which is in stark contrast to Minnesota United FC who had seven months between the time they were officially announced and their first home game. Of course, we won’t bring up the fact that Atlanta will soon play in an NFL stadium while MLS pushed Minnesota on their own stadium which will come in two years’ time.
There are some things you cannot deny about the Fire. Yes, they have missed the playoffs six of the last seven seasons. Yes, they finished bottom of the league the last two seasons. Of course, they only drew 13,024 fans to their home opener (it was cold). Indeed, lots of bad decisions have been made by the Fire during the last few years. All of this has led the Fire to being irrelevant. And of course, this person has been doing the “fashionable” thing to bash Toyota Park and Bridgeview like Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl did.
Here, I draw a thick, red line. For starters, Toyota Park was built in 2006. That was before Seattle, Toronto, Portland, and Vancouver made it fashionable to be downtown. It was during a time where MLS was glad some of its teams were in soccer-specific stadiums. Also, the reality at the time was that that team was NEVER going to get a deal done in the city while the mayor at the time, Richard M. Daley, was in office. Bridgeview simply gave the Fire an offer it couldn’t refuse. If there is something to knock Toyota Park and Bridgeview about, besides the food in the press box which is the same almost every home game, it’s that they have not built things around it like restaurants and shopping.
Another thing to note is that Bridgeview is just 13.1 miles from the Chicago Loop, or the same distance between Downtown Los Angeles and StubHub Center. I should also remind you that FC Dallas is in Frisco, TX; Real Salt Lake is in Sandy, UT; The Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls, Colorado Rapids, and New England Revolution are also in suburban locales. All but New England have their own stadiums.
Granted it’s not the most accessible stadium in MLS, but there are services such as “Pub to Pitch
” and a “Toyota Park Express” to get fans to the games from the northern part of the city. Don’t blame location for the attendance at Toyota Park. It’s two biggest penalties are that it was built before it was fashionable to build downtown and that the team has been losing the last few years. Only now does the Fire look like reversing that trend on the pitch.
I should say that I’m somewhat biased since I live only 15 minutes from Toyota Park and I am a lifelong resident of the Southwest Suburbs of Chicago. And yes, it’s not been easy covering this team the last few years and it ticks me off when the Fire gets treated like a punching bag like this jackhole is doing. There has been little in the Fire’s actions that are defensible, but Toyota Park and Bridgeview are two things I will defend against ill-informed opinions that they are ipso facto reasons why the Fire’s attendance has been down the last few years. If there is one certain thing that can bring fans back, it is winning—which again the team is finally appearing to take steps towards doing.
I’ve followed the Fire since the very beginning (1998) and Atlanta United FC is only coming into the league at a time where everybody wants in. To call them the greatest thing since sliced bread after just two matches (and given ample time to prepare) would be a Trump-sized exaggeration. Shame on the Chicago Tribune for printing this and shame on the writer for this ill-informed, trash-talking pile of rubbish that this article is.