As summer came to a close, I checked another MLS stadium off my list. The last time I went to a Fire game, they were still playing at Solider Field before the remodel. I used to go at least once a year, usually when they played DC United, and I was interested to see Toyota Park, as this was another in the line of soccer specific stadia helping to promote the MLS. So my family went to Chicago over Labor Day weekend to do some sight seeing and check out the Fire.
On the train ride in I listened to a recent Beyond the Pitch episode on the team and their struggles both on and off the field. The pod dealt with the recent PR firestorm started by the Communications Director before moving on to the current Mike Magee for MVP campaign and ended with what the further might hold for the Windy City club.
Sunday started with the 7:30am CT kick off of Liverpool and Manchester United. I went to Fado Chicago and the place was absolutely stuffed with people, mostly of the Merseyside persuasion. Sturridge’s early goal was met with tons of support, which continued until the dying moments when the Reds from Liverpool nervously held on.
The match encapsulated many of the recent frustrations of United. RvP being insolated; Giggs not providing any impact; Young continuing to be a turnover machine; and the Red Devil attack lacking sharpness. As I write this, United are supposedly wrapping up the Ander Herrara signing. Nice player; doesn’t solve the problem.
As for Liverpool, match couldn’t have gone any better. Early goal protected by an organized team that worked their proverbial socks off. Coutinho was quite good in the first half, and with more signings made at the close of the window, maybe the club has really turned the corner.
I caught the first half of North London Derby. Cheeky finish from Giroud but not much else from the Gunners. Felt that Spurs had the better of the game and probably should have gotten at least a point.
At halftime, I went and grabbed some beers for my trip on the Fire Bus. These are coaches that go around bars in Chicago, pick up fans and take them to the games. Fantastic idea. We all hopped on the bus, cracked open a cold one, and sat back on the road to Bridgeview. I shared a Rolling Rock with a Frenchmen in front of me, who was in town for a conference. We chatted about Lyon and Les Bleus and MLS.
The bus dropped up off at the Section 8 tailgate. $5 all you can eat Mexican and $1 PBR’s. Yes please. I chatted with a couple of supporters and they were very welcoming. Then it was off to the club store, where I picked up a nice scarf.
Upon entering the arena, Toyota Park seemed similar to Crew Stadium, with a ring of concessions and standing areas surrounding the lower bowl and a Party Deck at one end of the ground. A couple of differences were the height and coverage of the upper stand. Toyota Park only had one proper upper level and it was covered unlike Crew Stadium. This was a big factor as the temperature was near 90 on a sunny day. My phone died at kick off, so I was unable to get many pics inside the stadium. FAIL!! Special mention should be made that the match was featured as Hispanic Hertiage Day, and we sat just above Sector Latino, where a hardcore group made noise the entire game.
On a brutally hot day, the hosts started the match strongly but almost went down early as Will Bruin slipped past a defender but Fire netminder Thompson made the early save. Chicago created more chances as Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall had to scramble away an opportunity from Magee and saved a near post chance from Rolfe. The Fire’s dominance finally paid off 37 minutes in as Jeff Larentowicz nodded in a corner kick which gave Hall no chance.
Chicago continued to create chances in the second half but couldn’t find the insurance goal. Houston rolled the dice late in the match, pushing players forward with Cam Weaver going up top and Andrew Weaver doing a nice job stretching the field on the left side and delivering service. Time was ticking away and Ashe’s backheel freed Moffat who drilled it into the upper 90 to level the game. Chicago had one last chance as Magee whipped in a free kick that Anibaba headed on frame that produced a great save from Hall.
In the end, the Fire dominated the game but dropped two vital points in their playoff chase. Nine game games remain and currently they are on the outside looking in. With only three home games remaining, chances are not good. Chicago have won eight and drawn two of their 14 matches at Toyota Park, with only two wins on the road. Perhaps the key match will be their home game on 9/14 against New England, who site just above the Fire in the table.
As for Houston, the point keeps them ahead of Fire and in control of their own destiny for the fifth place. The Dynamo were without Ricardo Clark, and I felt that Adam Moffat had little impact on the match until his equalizer. I also noticed that Brad Davis played wide, and I don’t know if that is normal or not. Having watched Houston twice this season, I have to say that I am a little underwhelmed. Technically not that great and their defense seems fragile. They may scrape into the playoffs but don’t see them doing any damage.
The Section 8 website has some decent merch for sale, especially scarves, and does a decent job of laying out all of the different media options to support the club, including blogs and podcasts. I checked out the On the Fire recap of the game and Scott Fenwick saw many of the same things I did in terms of tactics and personnel. His infographic on the possession throughout the game was quite revealing and he had some strong words regarding the perfomances of Chris Rolfe this season. Also, if you get a chance check out the Matchbook Zine, in particular the 15th Annivesary Edition. Great interview and some fascinating insight into the formation of the club.