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25 November 3:04 pm

One of my favorite days of the year is the day the MLS schedule is released.

For many fans, this announcement means compiling a list of blackout days where the Fire are playing at Toyota Park. For Fire fans not residing in the Chicagoland area, it means finding out when the Men in Red will be visiting your nearest MLS team. But for someone like me who has been on quite a few road trips (over 50 but not as many as this guy), the schedule release day means not only looking at the home fixtures but also the away ones.

Questions I asked myself earlier today: Does Toronto away fall on weekend instead of a Wednesday night? How much does it cost to fly to Portland in March? These important questions get answered on this special day.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five exciting dates in the 2014 Fire calendar:

Week 2 – Portland away – Saturday, March 15 

Ever since Portland came into the league in 2011, the Fire supporters umbrella, Section 8 Chicago, has had a very good relationship with the Timbers Army, Portland’s main supporters group. The relationship is based on mutual respect and a shared “dislike” of all things Seattle.

Fire fans are always treated well in Portland and it’s not uncommon for Fire and Timbers fans to hang out before and after the games, something you would never see Fire fans doing in Columbus or Kansas City.

The atmosphere at JELD-Wen Field is also second to none. Though is certainly isn’t going to be the easiest away trip on the field or the lightest on the wallet, I think we will see quite a few Fire fans making the trip to Portland in Week 2 instead of traveling to LA to watch the Fire face Chivas in the season opener.

Week 6 & 22 – Montreal away – Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, August 16

The Fire were the Montreal Impact’s opponents in the Canadian club’s first home MLS back in 2012 and I was lucky enough to be at the game and had a great time.

That game was played indoors at the Olympic Stadium with a less than favorable playing surface – something many of the Fire fans observed firsthand the day before the game when we were invited to watch the team train (see photo above).

Now the Impact have Saputo Stadium refurbished, which provides another incentive for traveling Fire fans who may not have gotten there earlier this year.

Montreal is also a unique MLS city for a number of reasons. I can’t think of another MLS city where fans can brush up on their French by talking to the locals or take in the spectacular Notre-Dame basilica while eating some amazing poutine!

Montreal can be quite cold in April, but luckily for Fire fans, the April date is only the first time the Men in Red visit The City of Saints. I hear the weather is a lot nicer in mid-August, when the Fire visit for the second time.

Week 11 – Columbus away – Saturday, May 24

Columbus or Fire House East as many Fire fans call it is the closest away trip of the season distance wise. Due to this fact, the number of Fire fans attending this match is exponentially bigger than most other away games.

In 2001, Fire fans went to Crew Stadium in their hundreds, even when the Fire was not playing! The Fire had been knocked out in the Conference Semifinals by the Los Angeles Galaxy and many fans turned up to cheer against LA (and for the then Frank Yallop-led San Jose Earthquakes) at MLS Cup.

There have been many highs experienced in Columbus, such as Paulo Wanchope’s winning goal in a 2007 match after the game was delayed due to a torrential downpour. Fire fans were also 45 minutes away from MLS Cup in 2008 but for a Crew comeback in the second half which left Fire fans, including myself, devastated. There’s also the 2012 invasion which saw 600 Fire supporters make the trek.

The Fire only play once at Fire House East this season and I expect to see a lot of red behind the goal on May 24.

Week 16 & 32 Kansas City away –Sunday, July 6 &  Friday, October 10

Kansas City is another road trip that fans have attended in large numbers throughout the years. My first trip to Kansas City was a disappointing one, with the Fire losing to the Kansas City Wizards in the final of the U.S. Open Cup in 2004.

Since then, the Kansas franchise has a new name and a soccer specific stadium. You can no longer play the count the crowd game that we often did when the Wizards played at Arrowhead Stadium.

Most fans travel to this game by bus thus skipping the “delights” of downtown Kansas City and the bus ride does offer one cool treat – a visit to the world’s largest truck stop in Iowa.

Though SKC are not really a Fire rival (despite efforts made by the KC front office to make it into something bigger) there is certainly a dislike between the players and fans on both sides.

With the October 11 game coming so late in the season, it may be a pivotal one in terms of Playoff positioning.

Week 23 – Toronto away – Saturday, August 23

By far my favorite MLS city to travel to is Toronto. It's roughly the same distance from Chicago as Kansas City and again many fans travel to Canada on supporter’s buses.

Each visit, Fire fans shack up at a great hostel where we run into soccer fans from all over the world. Toronto itself is a great city aside from the prohibitive drinking laws on weekends (who doesn’t want to have a pint at 10am while watching the Premier League the next morning?).

BMO Field is located right on the shores of Lake Ontario and is thus left exposed and is often windy and chilly but the warm pies served at some of the concessions stands are an excellent halftime treat.

On the field, the Fire have had some good success against a TFC team that has languished near the bottom of the MLS table since starting in 2007. Thankfully, this match is on a Saturday in August so I expect a much larger contingent of Fire fans to attend.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.

09 October 11:49 am

Freddie Christiano has been a Fire fan since the club’s inaugural 1998 season and counts Piotr Nowak, Zach Thornton and Sean Johnson as his favorite Fire players of all-time.

Fans spoke loud and clear to determine the winning design and Christiano became more than just a fan on Tuesday night as his design, which garnered a majority of the fan vote, was unveiled as the #cf97ThirdKit winner at the club’s 16th Anniversary Party at Toyota Park. I caught up with Freddie on Wednesday to get the lowdown on how it felt to see his design become a part of club history.

JC: You probably had a little tension going to the party last night. How did you approach the announcement?

FC: I was really nervous because I was up against quality designs – one being the [light blue] kit that I know a lot of fans really wanted to see and the white one which definitely would have fit in with what the Fire have going on with their home and away kits right now.

JC: So, Logan Pause and Gonzalo Segares lift the drape over the design and you see it’s yours… Describe the euphoria.

FC: At that moment I didn’t even know what I was thinking. I was super relieved that it was over and that my jersey was up there. It meant a lot because I worked hard on it and knowing that it got chosen against those other two quality designs meant the Fire community really dug it. Playing soccer and following the Fire – when you can’t be out on the field as a player, I think this might be the next best thing to be a part of the team forever.

JC: While your design isn’t straight up “Municipal Chicago” it does have some more subtle marks to pay homage to the city. One mark is the skyline element on the back of the shirt… Explain it for more clarity.

FC: The stripe on the front was a representation of the Chicago flag colors with the blue and white stripes and when it wraps around it makes a silhouette of the Sears [Willis] Tower.

JC: How much has your phone been buzzing since the announcement?

FC: Friends and family that voted, I got a million text messages from them. A lot of tweets and new followers on my Twitter account, random Facebook friends – it was a cool feeling to get that response from people.

JC: Along with the prize of having your design chosen, you’ve also won a trip to Portland to see the Fire play the Timbers in 2014, as well as a shopping spree at the adidas store out there. I hear you’re getting married in June, what if the game clashes with the wedding date?

FC:  I don’t really know what I’d choose there! I’m taking my fiancé to Portland with me but if they’re on the same weekend, that’d be a tough one. I don’t know how that’d work. If it does clash, maybe I’ll alternate and go to the All-Star Game instead. 

05 October 11:41 am

What's more fun than a 3-0 win? Going back and reading all the tweets from said win! 

Check out the story of last night's match, as told through the famous #cf97 hashtag on Twitter! Tweet with us during games and you could see your message here:

 
02 October 3:07 pm

Get out to A.J. Hudsons (3801 N. Ashland) for Section 8 Chicago's viewing party for Friday night's crucial match vs. D.C. United (LIVE 7pm CT on NBC Sports Network)!

Turn around Saturday morning and get out to Fado's Irish Pub (100 W. Grand Ave.) for Chicago Fire Rec Soccer's English Premier League Viewing Party

We'll be holding a raffle to benefit the Chicago Fire Foundation, with prizes including...

- Team autographed Chicago Fire jersey

- Team autographed Chicago Fire ball
- Fire Fan MLPD Experience - The winner will receive five (5) MLPD tickets ($175 value) 
- Bus-On-Us Experience - Two winners will receive four (4) round-trip bus rides to the and general admission tickets. (2x $120 value)
- Fado's happy hour party for up to 25 guests ($360 value)
- Wine tasting outing for group of 10
- Gift Certificate(s)
- Fire Fan Packs

Raffle Ticket Prices: 1 for $3, 2 for $5, 7 for $10

DRINK SPECIALS on Mimosas and Black Velvets. Also, 20% of all money spent on food will go toward the Foundation.

Game Schedule:  
7am - Everton vs Manchester City
9am - Liverpool vs Crystal Palace
11:30am - Sunderland vs Manchester United

18 September 10:03 am

In advance of Thursday's Soccer & Style runway show, it appears Austin Berry, Hunter Jumper and Paolo Tornaghi have begun channeling their inner Zoolander...

Catch the trio plus a number of other Fire players walk down the runway Thursday night at Roof on the Wit, benefitting the Chicago Fire Foundation.

Tickets available here

 

16 September 3:23 pm

Some of the best tweets from Saturday's 3-2 victory over New England are below... Have the chance to see your tweets in a future gallery, by hashtagging #cf97!

14 September 8:48 am

The Fire are proud to be a sponsor of the Great Chicago Fire Hydrants, a public art exhibition celebrating the heroism of Chicago’s firefighters.  The city-wide program launched on September 11, but the Fire wanted to give our fans a first glimpse of our hydrant at tonight’s game before it goes on display for two months at the Hancock Plaza downtown.

In addition to the Fire and our creative team, scores of other local artists have decorated 5-foot tall fiberglass fire hydrants sponsored by Chicagoland businesses.  The first hydrants were installed in various locations around the city last week on September 11.  Following the public exhibition the hydrants will be auctioned on December 4, 2013 to benefit the 100 Club of Chicago, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the families of fallen police and firefighters.

Two special touches to the hydrant appear on its rings. The top honors the seven members of the club’s Ring of Fire: Peter Nowak, Frank Klopas, Lubos Kubik, Peter Wilt, Bob Bradley, Chris Armas and C.J. Brown. While the club’s three tenets -- Tradition. Honor. Passion. – appear on the base ring (check out the photo gallery below).

Get your photo with the Fire’s hydrant located behind Section 8 during the game up until half time and in the Stadium Club post-game.  Don’t worry –  if you miss your opportunity to get a photo, stop by the Hancock Plaza (just steps from The Chicago Water Tower) beginning next week to see the hydrant on display through November.

Be sure to tag photos with #cf97 and http://www.facebook.com/greatchicagofirehydrants or on Twitter.

For more information, including all the artist biographies, display locations and hydrant photos visit: www.GreatChicagoFireHydrants.com.

Chicago Fire's Entry in Great Chicago Fire Hydrant Project

05 September 3:23 pm

The final installment in our series of #cf97ThirdKit interviews sees me speak to Option 5 designer Jordan Parks.

Check out the previous interviews with Mike Sever (Option 1)Danny Carlino (Option 2)Freddie Christiano (Option 3) and Eric Puente (Option 4) regarding the inspiration behind their designs. One more Q&A coming later Thursday!

What was the inspiration behind your design?

The inspiration for my third kit design came from Chicago’s rich industrial history, the beautiful city skyline, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. These three elements helped fuel my concept and display the true honor, passion, and tradition of this club and this great city.

The blue to white gradient in my design begins with the rich navy blue of the club, incorporates the light blue of the famous Chicago flag, and fades to a bright white to show the eliteness of this powerful city.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

The subtle abstract view of the skyline represents the flames that ravaged the city in 1871 and the building blocks which made this city bounce back from devastation to become one of the most economically powerful in America.

What do you feel is unique about your design?

After looking at past kits worn by the Fire and researching other clubs past and present designs, I decided to simplify mine and keep the base color white; paying tribute to past away kits worn by the Fire.

While the Chicago flag is a well known and recognizable symbol of Chicago, I tried to stay away from blatantly using the flag as the base for my design as it has been done before and many Fire supporters want this as a permanent kit option rather than a third kit.

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

I believe my design is unique because of its elegance and simplicity while showing physical and historical attributes of the great city we call home.

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club's third kit?

As a young designer, seeing my design being worn by my club would be absolutely exhilarating. I have been a Fire supporter for many years and having this opportunity with the club has already been rewarding in itself.

The reality of having my concept turned into a final solution is what I stand for as a designer. I work to succeed and push to exceed. Seeing the mighty Fire wearing my kit design in victory would be the best reward I could ask for. I believe with a fresh third kit option, the Chicago Fire can bring home another MLS Cup in style. Go Fire!

05 September 8:18 am

The third in our series of #cf97ThirdKit interviews sees me speak to Option 3 designer Freddie Christiano.

On Wednesday I spoke with Mike Sever (Option 1) and Danny Carlino (Option 2) about the inspiration behind their designs. More Q&A's coming later Thursday.

What was the inspiration behind your design?

I was hoping I would get a chance to answer a question like this during the competition. The design looks simple, but there were a lot of different things that inspired the design. It is obvious from all the designs presented that we as fans wanted some representation of the Chicago flag back on the jersey. I did not want the jersey to be a remake of the old Puma design so I thought about how I could place the flag somewhere on the kit where it had meaning. I wanted to have meaning not only to a fan, but anyone who will wear the jersey.

In my full submission to the Chicago Fire I included the words “#WearYourHeartOnYourSleeve”. This became the overall inspiration for the jersey and why I placed the flag on the sleeve. We are really passionate about sports here in Chicago and we aren't afraid to let anyone know how we feel. I think we can convey that passion to the players on the field playing for our team as well. By placing the Chicago flag on the sleeve, it is a reminder to the players their emotion, pride, and heart on the field is matched by that of those in the stands and through out the city.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

I didn't want to distract from the sleeve element, so I based the rest of the design on something I learned from playing soccer, which was to “keep it simple”. I wanted a color to help make the sleeve stand out, but it also needed to have significance.

I have seen some comments regarding my choice of black and it not being related to Chicago and compared to other cities kits. I actually found that color inspiration from our skyline. Any way you view the Chicago skyline, you are seeing two of the most iconic buildings of our city: The Willis Tower and  John Hancock Building. These two buildings do not stand out only because of their size but also because of their color.  This was also the perfect color to make the sleeve stand out and maintain integrity for the main color of the kit. The vertical strip was a simple way to bring more of flag inspiration into the design and tie it up to the Fire crest, linking the two together. When the stripe wraps to the back of the jersey it fades to the silhouette of the Willis Tower.

The Fire crest needed to be as unique as the overall design. I was inspired when looking at the crest on my 1999 Chicago Fire kit. Although, it is not clear from the image posted the entire crest in my design would be of this metallic threading.

What do you feel is unique about your design?

Besides the choice of color, every design element of this kit has significant meaning. This is more than a kit that I have designed, it is about interconnecting players, fans, and a city. It establishes bonds of tradition, honor, and passion felt by all when carrying the flag on their sleeve.

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

Giving the flag significant placement and a motto, “Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve”, helps establish these bonds and makes everyone aware what it means to be from Chicago and play for our club. The motto will also give supporter groups new chants to create when players take the field in an intimidating black kit!

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club's third kit?

If chosen, I would feel happiest knowing the majority of fans feel as passionate about this kit and its meaning as I do. They understood it can be as powerful as connecting players to fans on another level.

The Fire is a team I grew up supporting and would love to be part of the club from an opportunity like this. Having your kit made forever links you to the team and Its history. That would be something special.

04 September 12:55 pm

Over the next few days we'll be rolling out interviews with each of the five #cf97ThirdKit finalists asking for the inspiration and unique qualities of their entries.

First up, Mike Sever and Option #1...

What was the inspiration behind your design?

My inspiration was the history of both the team and the history of the City of Chicago. While the sky blue and white color is obviously a nod to the Fire's popular "Flag Jersey" from 2005, there are other references that longtime fans may recognize. First, the jersey returns the club's traditional white stripe to the front across the chest, but with a subtle twist. The two navy stripes inside the white chest stripe not only allude to the two blue stripes in a white field on the Chicago city flag, but are also a throwback to the navy and white stripes on the Fire's home and away uniforms during their trophy-winning heyday of the club’s early years.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

I decided to put the Chicago flag on the back after being unable to find a way to put it on the front without the jersey looking too crowded. I added the year 1871, the year of the Great Chicago Fire, which despite its destructive power, also gave Chicago a unique opportunity to start fresh and rebuild itself into the city it is today.  I decided to use 1871 instead of 1997 (the year of the club's founding) because I've always felt the Chicago Fire Soccer Club was named in remembrance of the historical event of the 1871 Fire (and the subsequent resilience to rebuild Chicago even bigger than before), rather than merely naming the team after the phenomenon of light and heat. Besides, doesn't "The Great Chicago Fire" have a nice ring to it?

What do you feel is unique about your design?

All five final designs have some degree of sky blue and white in them, which is not surprising as Fire supporters have been clamoring for a Chicago-flag-themed jersey since its last appearance in 2005. However, Design #1 is the only one that blends the team's history with its present. No other jersey design uses the Chicago flag, the Fire's traditional white chest stripe, AND a nod to the early teams whose success in adverse conditions at Soldier Field and Cardinal Stadium helped pave the way for the team we see today. 

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

While a third jersey often gives teams an opportunity to mix up their look with different colors and patterns, I still want people to be able to see this jersey on the street or on TV and instantly recognize it as the Chicago Fire. One of the great things about the sport of soccer is how even though teams change their jerseys seemingly every year, the looks remain the same, with very few exceptions. Real Madrid is always going to be all white. Celtic is always going to be green and white hoops. Liverpool will always be red and Chelsea will always be blue. In that vein, no other team in MLS has ever worn a single stripe across the chest, and no other team in MLS plays in the colors of the Chicago flag. This jersey is something new, but it is familiar, and unmistakably Chicago.

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club’s new third kit?

I'm not even thinking about that yet. I'm not anything close to a professional designer, so it's already an honor for my design to be included with the four other finalists, and it's beyond my imagination to have the club I've been following since I was a kid wear a shirt I designed. I mean, I remember trying to draw the old "Fire truck" logo in the margins of my 8th grade notebooks after the team was announced in 1997, and I still have the ticket stub from my first-ever Fire game 15 years ago.  I didn't even think my design would make it this far in the contest. It's crazy for me to even think about winning, but I'd like to encourage everyone to vote for Design #1!