On the field, the Chicago Fire head into Sunday’s game against Toronto FC still in the playoff race with two matches remaining. However, there’s a lot more going on than the Fire holding onto slim playoff hopes.
This is the end of an era for the Fire. The team is set to play at Soldier Field in 2020, meaning Sunday will be the Fire’s last Major League Soccer game at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Ill. There remains the possibility that the team will host future games in Bridgeview — maybe a U.S. Open Cup match here or a friendly there — but going forward, Soldier Field is home for the Fire.
With a 14-year run in Bridgeview coming to an end, here’s a look back at 10 of the most notable Fire games in the stadium’s history. The Fire haven’t been the only tenant of Toyota Park/SeatGeek Stadium, with the United States women’s national team and the Chicago Red Stars both playing significant matches there in recent years. However, those matches are expected to continue, so this list is limited to the Fire and MLS.
Date: June 11, 2006
Result: 3-3 draw vs. New England Revolution
Chicago opened the 2006 season with nine straight matches on the road as construction finished at Toyota Park. The new stadium debuted exclusively to Bridgeview residents and season ticket holders. Nate Jaqua scored the first goal in the stadium’s history in the 39th minute, but the Fire settled for a draw.
Date: June 25, 2006
Result: 2-0 win vs. New York Red Bulls
This was the first game fully open to the public, and it kicked off a stretch of nine straight at home. The match was a sellout and created optimism around the Fire and their new stadium. Chris Armas, now coach of the Red Bulls, scored the opening goal.
The All-Star Game
Date: Aug, 5, 2006
Result: MLS All-Stars 1, Chelsea 0
As MLS has done several times over the years, the league showcased a new stadium with its All-Star Game. Jaqua represented the Fire on the roster. Former Fire player Peter Nowak, who was managing D.C. United at the time, coached the team. Dwayne De Rosario scored the only goal of the match in front of a big crowd. When the Fire next hosted the All-Star Game in 2017, it took place in Soldier Field.
The first trophy
Date: Sept. 27, 2006
Result: 3-1 win vs. LA Galaxy
It didn’t take long for the Fire to win a trophy in Bridgeview. The team beat the Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup final. There wasn’t a big crowd, but it was the team’s fourth Open Cup crown. The Fire haven’t won a trophy since.
First playoff game
Date: Oct. 22, 2006
Result: 1-0 win vs. New England
The Fire hosted the Revolution to open the Eastern Conference semifinals. It was the first playoff game in Toyota Park history. Justin Mapp scored the only goal of the game in a win, but the Revs would knock the Fire out in penalties in the return leg.
Date: July 22, 2007
Result: 1-1 draw with Celtic FC
The Fire’s first designated player, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, debuted in an international friendly. He scored the opening goal in the draw against Celtic. The Fire played in front of seven straight sellout crowds (defined as 20,000 or more in attendance) with Blanco as the main attraction.
A continental final
Date: Aug, 5, 2009
Result: 1-1 draw, lost on penalties to Tigres
The Fire took part in the inaugural Leagues Cup this year, but they have a history in the tournament’s predecessor, the SuperLiga. The Fire navigated their way to the final of the 2009 SuperLiga and faced Mexican giant Tigres in the final. Despite taking place on a Wednesday, 20,000 fans packed Toyota Park to see a continental final. Tigres won on penalties after the teams played to a 1-1 draw.
Record-setting crowd in the playoffs
Date: Nov. 7, 2009
Result: 2-0 win vs. New England
MLS playoff matches tend to have boom or bust crowds. Sometimes teams struggle to get big crowds on short notice in cold weather. Sometimes crowds ramp up in the chase for a trophy. In this case, the Fire witnessed the latter for an Eastern Conference semifinal. The crowd of 21,528 was the biggest in stadium history at the time. After the Fire lost the first leg 2-1 at New England, Blanco put the Fire ahead 3-2 on aggregate with an 83rd-minute goal. This is still the most recent playoff win for the Fire.
Breaking the record again
Date: Nov. 14, 2009
Result: 0-0 draw, lost on penalties to Real Salt Lake
An extra 195 fans were counted in the conference final a week later. The Fire had made three straight conference finals, but this was the only one of those that took place at home. After 120 scoreless minutes, the Fire ended up losing in seven penalty rounds. This game had the chance to be the clear high point in recent Fire history with a spot in the MLS Cup final so close. Instead, it marked the end of an era. It was Blanco’s final game with the club. The team would miss the playoffs the next two years and the Fire still haven’t won a playoff game since this season.
A new legend debuts
Date: April 1, 2017
Result: 2-2 draw with the Montreal Impact
For years the Fire struggled to replace the star power of Blanco. When Bastian Schweinsteiger joined the team a few games into the 2017 season, the Fire finally had a bona fide star both on and off the field. The German started against Montreal and scored with a header off a corner kick to mark a memorable debut. The game was played on a cold day in early April and the Fire were coming off back-to-back last-place finishes in MLS, so the crowd of 15,103 was nothing special. However, the Fire went on a run in the summer and drew six sellout crowds that season en route to a playoff appearance.
Bonus game: Zlatan
Date: April 14, 2018
Result: 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy
This home loss as part of a bad season was unspectacular for the Fire. However, the fans showed up to watch Zlatan Ibrahimović. This is still the biggest crowd for a Fire game in stadium history. Ibrahimović delivered on the field with the game’s only goal and then in the postgame interview. “I heard they never fill the stadium so I should come often,” Ibrahimović said.