Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Soccer returns to Soldier Field?

It would be intriguing if the Chicago Fire could take over Soldier Field for a few days next summer.
Soldier Field has had varied uses throughout its existence

And no, I don’t mean I want to burn the stadium down. It may look hideous and freakish from the outside. But it still is a 60,000-plus arena that has housed many sporting and other historic events during its nearly century of existence.

I’M REFERRING TO the Chicago Fire professional soccer team that plays in Major League Soccer. That league has an all-star game every year, and Crain’s Chicago Business reported Monday how officials are negotiating with Chicago for use of the stadium. City officials have put a hold on Daley Plaza and Millennium Park’s Wrigley Square and Harris rooftop for the end of July – which is when the all-star game is scheduled for.

Even though the Fire themselves play in a stadium they had built for themselves about a decade ago out in suburban Bridgeview. For the all-star game (which likely would pit U.S. stars against a foreign team that would view the event as a chance for a U.S. vacation trip for its players), they want the vastness of an outdoor stadium with the massive capacity of a Soldier Field.

Considering that Bridgeview’s Toyota Park barely seats over 20,000 people, it’s quite a difference.

It was always part of the reason why I thought it a mistake that the Chicago Fire left the city for a suburban location back in 2006. I know the argument the team makes – that their crowds fit perfectly in their new stadium, but would get lost in the vastness of a Soldier Field.

YET A PART of me has always thought that the team ought to be striving for the level of success that they could pack ‘em in at a Soldier Field – rather than settling for the smallness of Toyota Park; which I’ll admit is a nice little stadium that I’m sure many second-rate teams would love to have as a home facility.
Soldier Field, when configured for 'futbol'

Perhaps having an all-star game at Soldier Field could be a first step toward moving at least a part of the Chicago Fire schedule back to the near South stadium, thereby creating the potential for Fire officials to start thinking of ways to attract the kind of crowds that would fill Soldier Field to an intimidating presence.

That will be when soccer can truly claim to have “arrived” in this country – when they can draw the kinds of crowds that the New York Cosmos of the old North American Soccer League used to draw (77.691 for a match on Aug. 15, 1977 against the now-defunct Fort Lauderdale Strikers) on occasion.

Or perhaps something like the 61,308 that the Fire themselves drew to Soldier Field for a July 23, 2011 match against Manchester United – an English team!

NOT THAT THE idea of soccer (real football, as opposed to that phony kind the Chicago Bears play ever so badly these days on the Soldier Field turf) ought to be considered alien.
'94 World Cup ceremonies at a jam-packed Soldier Field

I still recall when the World Cup international soccer tourney was played for 1994 with the United States as its host – and how Soldier Field was used as the site for the opening ceremonies and for several first-round games.

Germany and Spain fans, in particular, got to see their teams each win a match, then play each other to a 1-1 tie.

There also was the Copa America tourney, which in the past was for a championship of the South American continent but this year was expanded to include North American national teams.

HOSTED THIS YEAR by the United States, some of the matches were played at Soldier Field, with both Chile and Argentina both managing early round wins on the path to the championship game (fans in East Rutherford, N.J., got to see the championship game between the two, with Chile winning ultimately on penalty kicks).
A nice-enough stadium, but it ain't Soldier Field by any means
Heck, there even was a U.S. matchup against Costa Rica at Soldier Field, with a 4-0 victory for the Stars & Stripes on Soldier Field turf.

If you want to be honest, hosting a Major League Soccer all-star game would be a lesser event than those. Yet it still would be nice to see something involving “the beautiful game” taking place within the Soldier Field bowl.

At the very least, it would be a relief for Chicago sports fans who have come to associate Soldier Field with the weekly dose of agony every autumn as we watch “da Bears” lose, yet again!


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