On Oct. 8, 2019, Chicago Fire Football Club Owner and Chairman Joe Mansueto stood on the pristine Soldier Field grass, ready to address a collection of fervent Chicago Fire supporters and a host of civic leaders, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, along with Chicago’s press corps.
Under clear blue skies, Mansueto — the founder of Morningstar Inc., who one month prior had assumed sole ownership of Chicago’s Major League Soccer team — formally announced that the Chicago Fire would reclaim Soldier Field as their home venue in 2020 following 14 years in suburban Bridgeview. The move represented a much-anticipated homecoming for a Football Club that had enjoyed considerable success while previously playing matches in Chicago’s iconic lakefront stadium from 1998-2001 and again from 2004-05.
New-look Chicago Fire
That important declaration was only the first in a series of seismic changes for the organization prior to the 2020 campaign.
Off the field, the Chicago Fire unveiled an all-new brand identity that more clearly connects the sports team’s name to its origin story, rooted in Chicago’s rise from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire into one of the world’s most prominent cities. The Club also transported its business operations to a prime location in the Loop and announced a landmark local media rights agreement with WGN-TV, Chicago’s Very Own.
The off-season also ushered in exciting changes on the sporting side. The arrivals of Georg Heitz as Sporting Director and Raphael Wicky as Head Coach has brought the Chicago Fire a championship pedigree and a wealth of player development experience from the highest levels of European football. Heitz previously helped Swiss side FC Basel claim multiple domestic titles and Wicky helped Basel defeat some of Europe’s biggest clubs in UEFA Champions League competition.
Stand for Chicago
Of course, what was meant to be a year-long celebration of the Club’s return to Soldier Field and downtown Chicago has not materialized as planned. Just nine days before the Chicago Fire’s scheduled Homecoming match on March 21, 2020 — an anticipated sellout with 60,000+ fans set to fill Soldier Field — the MLS season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the untimely delay, the events of 2020 only magnified the significance of Chicago Fire FC’s move back to the heart of the city. Through the work of its Football In The Neighborhoods program and deep-rooted partnerships with groups like Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Park District, the Club focused on serving those most in need and amplifying the voices of community leaders.
Vision (partially) realized
Five months after its originally scheduled home opener, the Chicago Fire hosted their first MLS regular season match back at Soldier Field on Thursday, Aug. 25, playing in front of empty seats rather than 60,000+ passionate supporters. Nevertheless, a picturesque, late-summer lakefront evening served as the backdrop as an inspired CFFC side delivered a performance to match the historic occasion, defeating FC Cincinnati 3-0.
As the team settles into its new lakefront home, hope remains high that in the near future the Club will see the return of fans to Soldier Field, where all Chicago is invited to stand together, sing in unison, and celebrate the world’s game in our world-class sports city.
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