Fire’s farewell saddens fans
Soccer team leaving Bridgeview for Soldier Field
By Steve Metsch
The likely final game in Bridgeview for the Chicago Fire soccer team had fans feeling bittersweet.
They were happy to attend Sunday’s game. They were looking forward to what the future may hold. And, many were feeling sad.
Juan Hernandez, 41, lives in Bridgeview and can walk to games. He took a break from grilling skirt steak for a pregame tailgate to discuss the last game.
“I feel a little sad. I like it here. It’s close … We saw this stadium being built,” said Hernandez, whose son, Noeh, plays in the Chicago Fire Juniors soccer program.
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Hernandez’ friend, Andre Reynolds, 50, of Chicago, added: “It’s been a great ride. It’s been fun. Time to move on to the next level.”
Reynolds attends every home game because his 18-year-old son, Andre Reynolds II, is a reserve on the team.
Juan Hernandez had one last tailgate before the Chicago Fire’s final game in Bridgeview. Photo by Steve Metsch.
The team in May announced plans to move its home games after playing in Bridgeview since 2006. The Fire is paying the village $60.5 million to break its 30-year lease.
Moving home games to Soldier Field “will be good for the fan base,” Reynolds said, “because you get to attract the entire city. It becomes now the city’s team, rather than the suburban team.”
Sitting at a picnic bench near the north gate, Theresa Piasecki and Leteka Bojanowski reflected on the move.
“It’s the end of an era here, but it’s exciting to see what the next chapter is. It will be a little bit more accessible for most people, but it’s kind of sad because this was one of the first stadiums built in the MLS,” Bojanowski, who lives in downtown Chicago, said.
Her aunt by marriage, Piasecki, 88, lives in Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood.
Theresa Piasecki, left, and Leteka Bojanowski have season tickets to the games. Piasecki, 88, hopes to attend some games at Soldier Field. Photo by Steve Metsch.
Her nephew got her interested in soccer years ago. She’s been hooked since, and has owned season tickets since the stadium opened. She proudly wore the bright red jersey bearing the name of forward Calen Carr, who played for the Fire from 2006 to 2011.
“I’m going to miss them here,” Piasecki said. “It’s going to be difficult for me to get downtown, but I’ll make a few of the games. I can’t give up ‘The Men in Red.’ If you’re a true fan, you follow them all the time.”
Jeff Church, 35, of Dyer, Ind., has been following the team for nine years. He was with about150 parents and kids he brought from the Schererville Soccer Club.
“(I am) a little sad. I’ve been a season ticket holder for three years … I’ll definitely miss this place,” Church said.
He’s not sure Soldier Field is a good idea: “They were already at Soldier Field once and left.”
“If you put a good product on the field that wins, they have no trouble filling this stadium because I’ve been here for six sellouts in a row. But if the team’s not winning, nobody shows up,” Church said.
According to the MLS web site, 17,748 fans showed up Sunday. They watched the Fire and Toronto play to a 2-2 tie, which eliminated Chicago from playoff contention.
Church said he may get season tickets downtown, depending on prices.
“Coming here, it’s a family atmosphere. Even if it’s a small crowd, the stadium doesn’t look empty. If you go to Soldier Field and you only have 12,000 fans, the stadium is empty,” Church said. “Hopefully, they can still keep it family friendly.”
This shot on goal was stopped by the Fire, which tied Toronto, 2-2, in the franchise’s final game at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, where it had played since 2006. Photo by Steve Metsch.
The Fire has been good for the Graning family from Chicago. Father Josh, 40, has been bringing son Parker, 11, since he was six months old.
Josh, who broke his right foot skateboarding, was on crutches for the final game in Bridgeview.
“It will be easier for me to get to Soldier Field. We’re in Humboldt Park. I can take a bus to the Red Line to get there,” Josh said. “It will be weird. I’ve been coming here for 11 years.”
“It’s kind of sad, but the last six years have not been glorious. It used to be I didn’t miss games. Now there’s a negative attitude. I’m excited about the new owner and new direction,” Josh said.
In recent weeks, Fire merchandise has been marked down 50 percent in the team store, which was crowded. Ed Schwarz, of Lisle, grabbed a T-shirt for $13 after the discount.
He and wife Jeanene don’t like the move one bit.
“I don’t think they’ll get as many people,” she said. “It will be demoralizing for the players” if they don’t play before larger crowd in Soldier Field.”
Ed said they “won’t go as often” to Soldier Field.
“The parking. The traffic. More expensive,” he said. “I don’t know why they want that big a stadium. They don’t fill this (place) up.”
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