BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Sector Latino may not be the most well-known supporters’ group in Major League Soccer, but anyone who has ever watched or been to a Chicago Fire game at Toyota Park has heard or felt its influence.
The banging drums, constant singing, dancing and plenty of noise.
None of those things were present for Saturday’s Fire game against the New England Revolution.
That’s because the section was banned from the game as a result of multiple violations of MLS’ code of conduct. Everyone with a ticket to Section 101 in the southwest corner of Toyota Park, the area typically occupied by Sector Latino, had their ticket canceled for the New England game and their money refunded. Not everyone in that section is a member of Sector Latino, but that section is reserved for supporters’ groups.
Sector Latino was given what the Fire phrased “a final warning” in a letter sent to the group June 2. That warning came after an altercation involving Sector Latino members and traveling Houston Dynamo fans in the parking lot following a game on May 20.
The letter said the group was being warned because of “multiple incidents involving physical violence” in the past 14 months. It also forbid Sector Latino from bringing flags, banners, tifo displays, streamers, confetti or instruments to the June 2 game against San Jose.
On the same day the warning was issued, Sector Latino again violated the code of conduct with use of a smoke bomb during the San Jose match. In response, the club sent a follow-up letter banning the section and canceling all the tickets in Section 101.
The exact wording from the Fire’s letter alerting Sector Latino of the ban said:
“Prior to the match, that same afternoon, the Club provided leadership of Sector Latino Chicago official notice that, as a result of previous transgressions against the Fan Code of Conduct, including repeated incidents of violence, all designated supporter group privileges for the group were being revoked until August 1, 2018. Sector Latino Chicago was also given a final warning that any subsequent violations of the Fan Code of Conduct would result in a permanent revocation of all supporter privileges, including a designated seating section and private tailgate area. Representative leadership of the group acknowledged receipt of that warning.”
The decision to clear out Section 101 caught some heat on social media from former players and the club’s first president and general manager, Peter Wilt.
— Diego Gutiérrez (@DiegoGutierrez) June 8, 2018
— Lovel Palmer (@lovelpalmer7) June 9, 2018
— peter wilt (@PeterWilt1) June 9, 2018
Section 8, the bigger Fire supporters’ group that stands in the Harlem End on the north side of the stadium, released a statement on the Sector Latino ban with a byline attributed to the group’s chair, Dan Giroux.
“This community takes pride in our history as a club, and the supporters driven culture that this club was built upon,” the statement read. “This culture is founded upon trust between the club and it’s supporters and this trust was breached by the Chicago Fire in their actions against all ticket holders in section 101.
“While incidents of violence in supporters culture must be taken very seriously, this most recent incident was not linked to any incidents of violence and feels like a dramatic overreach by the club and only serves to erode the Fire’s most loyal base of supporters. In light of this action, Section 8 Chicago cannot, in good conscience, participate in any activities that 101 has been prohibited from doing.”
Giroux later said the Fire’s main concern was safety, but he did not believe the smoke bomb caused a safety concern. Giroux and other members of Section 8 also clarified to Pro Soccer USA that their problem is with the club’s decision to cancel the tickets of the entire section. Some ticket holders in Section 101 had their tickets canceled without being involved in the incidents. In some cases, fans not even at the game June 2 had their tickets canceled.
Section 8 followed through on its promise to stop selling tickets to the Harlem End, which remained mostly empty Saturday. There was no organized fan support at the match. The resulting atmosphere was noticeably different from typical Fire home games.
The Fire declined to speak on the record about the incident in case there is an appeal, but the letters do provide the club’s perspective on the issue. Sector Latino has until June 13 to file for appeal. The group has yet to do so.
Jun 9, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Atlanta United defender Jeff Larentowicz (18) heads the ball while defended by New York City forward Jesus Medina (19) during the second half at Yankee Stadium. The game ended in a 1-1 tie. Mandatory Credit: Chris Bergmann-USA TODAY Sports