Last night, the Chicago Fire took on the incarnation of evil, otherwise known as the New England Revolution, in the second leg of the first round of the MLS playoffs. The Fire were down 2-1 from the first leg after a tough away loss at Gillette Stadium in front of a pitiful crowd of 7,416. The two teams have spent most of the past decade knocking each other out of the playoffs, so it’s pretty fair to say neither club is fond of each other.
As that crowd at New England indicates, MLS teams have traditionally had trouble selling playoff games: the sales model has long depended on group sales that require a lot of advance planning, and the short turnaround for playoffs makes this difficult.
On Saturday night in Chicago, the Fire turned this on its head by selling out Toyota Park with a crowd of 21,528, and the supporters’ sections were as vibrant as I can ever remember them. The team responded, with a 2-0 win sending the Fire to the Eastern Conference final, hosting Real Salt Lake next week at home.
As the Vice-Chair of Section 8 Chicago, the Chicago Fire’s Independent Supporters’ Association, I had the opportunity to observe it all close-up. Please forgive a little self-indulgence as I take you on a trip through the game.
Preparing for the Game
In the tunnel at Toyota Park, players pass the sign below on their way on to the pitch. Underneath the sign is a small chunk of old Soldier Field, where the Chicago Fire began play in 1998, winning the league and cup double in that inaugural season and putting the club on the road to what has become its hallmark: tradition, honor, passion.
That chunk is from Section 8, where different Fire supporters’ groups soon joined together to support the team. The name has stuck, though supporters now gather in sections 117 and 118 of Toyota Park, the Fire’s home since 2006.