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Drama continues on, off the field for struggling Chicago Fire

Aug 11, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls players listen to the national anthem before MLS game at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire’s season isn’t going well in the standings and drama continues off the field as well. Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls added another chapter to the Fire’s ongoing saga with supporters’ groups.

Here are three things from the latest in Fireland:

Fan drama continues

The Fire front office and its fans have been at odds in recent weeks, stemming from a ban of Sector Latino and all ticket holders in section 101.

The story isn’t fading away, either. During the July 21 loss to Toronto FC, some fans affiliated with Section 8, the supporters’ group that stands behind the north goal, went into the vacated section. The fans cheered, chanted and supported the team like they would have before the Fire forced the section to be empty.

Those fans were identified and banned from the stadium for the rest of 2018.

As a result, the Fire suspended Section 8’s supporter privileges (bringing flags, banners and instruments and use of a capo stand) for Saturday’s match against the Red Bulls. Additionally, the Fire put a tarp over the section before the Red Stars played at Toyota Park on Friday.

There was also much clearer communication about the section being prohibited.

The resulting atmosphere was quieter without organized support. Midfielder Dax McCarty brought that up (without being asked) after the game.

“I thought even with everything going on with the front office and our supporters’ groups, I actually thought the crowd tonight was very good,” McCarty said. “Quiet at times, but that’s going to happen when there’s lulls in the game and you don’t have that organized support. So that’s obviously disappointing, but the fans that came out here tonight, they deserved to see a little bit more.”

Players exiting

A slew of players have left the Fire in the past couple weeks. Rafael Ramos exited recently via a mutual termination of his contract. The Fire waived Kevin Ellis and Tony Tchani on Thursday. Three more players were sent out on loan.

Ellis came off the bench in Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal defeat at Philadelphia. Both he and Tchani had played in a majority of the Fire’s MLS games to this point.

The timing is odd considering the transfer window closed the night before the players were waived. They won’t give the Fire any extra cap space unless another team picks them up and neither took up international spots.

Speaking of international spots, the Fire loaned out three players on Friday. Rookies Elliot Collier and Diego Campos were sent to Indy Eleven in the USL. Campos was third on the team in appearances with 21 (11 starts). Collier had made 16 appearances, nine of which were starts. Both players were drafted outside the first round this year, but earned playing time. However, they took up international spots and the Fire needed to clear room.

That is also why defender Nicolás Del Grecco went on loan to Tulsa in the USL. Del Grecco signed with the team on July 12. Coach Veljko Paunović explained that the loan provided an opportunity for Del Grecco to get some playing time on U.S. soil after being out of contract when the Fire signed him.

Summer signings Raheem Edwards and Nicolas Hasler and Michael de Leeuw’s return from ACL surgery meant the Fire needed to open up three international spots.

Michael de Leeuw is back

De Leeuw’s return was a bit of positive news. The Dutch forward subbed into the match in the 72nd minute. He hadn’t played since Sept. 30 of last year when he tore his left ACL.

De Leeuw tied for the team lead in assists last year and will provide an extra attacking option down the stretch. He said everything was moving fast in his first game action, but simply returning was significant.

“It felt great, that moment to step on the field again and just get those minutes,” de Leeuw said. “This is what I worked for for 10 months. Finally the moment was there that I could play again.”

Midfielder Djordje Mihailovic, who tore his right ACL in the playoffs last year against the Red Bulls, returned to the 18. He didn’t come off the bench. Paunović said the game state, with the Fire trailing before making any subs, didn’t allow for him to make his return as well.

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