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Last night, the Chicago Fire made their latest induction into the club’s Ring of Fire, which acknowledges heroes of the team’s history. Added last night was Chris Armas, joining Bob Bradley, Piotr Nowak, Lubos Kubik, Frank Klopas and Pitch Invasion’s own Peter Wilt in the Ring. Despite the pouring rain all night, Fire supporters, including myself, stayed in the stands to recognise Chris at an excellent half-time ceremony, midway through a critical game that eventually saw the Fire reach the MLS playoffs after a 1-0 win over Chivas USA.
Five members of the Ring were present for Armas’ ceremony yesterday, with only Kubik missing. The pride Armas took in being honoured in that company was visible on his face during the ceremony, as a reminder that in a very short time — the Fire were only founded in 1997 — the club developed a culture of respect for the badge often missing in MLS. All six in the Ring were central to the Fire’s expansion year cup and league championship double of 1998.
Armas was perhaps the most tenacious American midfielder of his generation, making 66 appearances for the United States, though he was cruelly robbed of an appearance at a World Cup finals due to his ACL tear in 2002. He served the Fire for a decade as a player and assistant coach. Armas now lives with his family in New York, but when he said he felt like he had a second family with the Fire community in Chicago, it did not sound hollow.
As I wrote here recently, I’m concerned that in ten years, the Fire may not have the same feeling to it for the players, staff and supporters of the present day. I hope I’m wrong, and last night we were reminded why people don’t snigger at a club only twelve years old talking about the “tradition, honor and passion” to its history that Armas spoke of. It’s why even in the pouring, pouring rain the uncovered supporters in Section 8 kept singing all night.
It’s why we supporters get-together to make banners recognising Chris Armas and another Chris soon to leave the club, Chris Rolfe (#17 below). The latter is leaving under something of a cloud with the club, but when he came over at the end of the game to toss his jersey into Section 8 and when the only remaining Fire original on the team CJ Brown also came over and did his infamous victory jig, it was a reminder of why we do keep going for the club whatever happens. May the Ring of Fire live on.
Phtoto credits: Marty Groark, official photographer for Section 8 Chicago.