This past Saturday, the Chicago Fire hosted the Manchester United in a wonderful international event that delivered all of excitement that the largest soccer crowd in Soldier Field history had hoped for.
While the match was called a "friendly," it was the celebration surrounding the game and the great international crowd that lived up to that name.
Soccer fans and dignitaries from all over the country, including US Senator Dick Durbin and Chicago Cubs star Carlos Zambrano, were among the fans watching the exhilarating game.
The tailgating began better than four hours before the game started, and lines formed to get into the various parking lots well before they opened. Fans were cooking lunch, tossing bags, kicking a soccer ball and enjoying a few choice beverages while celebrating a great sporting event. Flags and fans from all over the globe made their way into the parking lots outside Soldier Field to begin their Saturday afternoon early.
One fan, who had flown to Chicago from Liverpool, was among the first to park his rental car in the South Lot before the game at 11:45 AM. "What a beautiful city," he said. "I have always wanted to see Chicago, and [the game] gave me an excuse to come."
Michigan Avenue was crowded with soccer jerseys coming in and out of various restaurants and stores selling Chicago novelties were filled as well. The Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum were filled with folks in soccer jerseys who were trying to pass the hours before the game by seeing some of Chicago's other attractions.
But when Soldier Field opened the doors at 2 o'clock, fans started pouring in.
Section 8, home to the loudest and proudest of the Fire's fans, was almost full 90 minutes before gametime. The fans chanted and cheered throughout the match and represented their team and city exceptionally well.
On the pitch, fans watched the closest game United has played to date on their tour. At the half, Chicago led 1-0 on a gorgeous goal from Cory Gibbs.
The over 60,000 in attendance were teased with a number of great scoring chances by both sides, and each team put on a display of soccer skill that dazzled the fans in the stadium. When the final whistle sounded, the clear winner was the crowd.
“It was a fantastic event," midfielder Logan Pause told Chicago-Fire.com postgame. "It was fantastic for our organization and the city of Chicago for MLS to bring a team like Manchester United in.”
The Fire will host one more international friendly this season on Wednesday, Sept. 14 when Club Deportivo Guadalajara visits Toyota Park.
For more information about upcoming Chicago Fire games, and to purchase tickets, visit Chicago-Fire.com.