Outside a bar at halftime, one team was up a man and four goals. The crowd outside was split, not between teams but between ideals. Who would go back to watch the second half? It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the beginning of spring and a few of us wanted to go sit in a park. The game was all but over. But for some reason, everybody followed one guy back in, back to their seats at the bar. “It’s part of the contract,” he said. “It’s what we do.”
What contract? It’s the contract we sign as fans. The contract to watch and be a part of the sport in America. But what responsibility do we have to the game? What do we owe it? Are we ever allowed our Saturday afternoons?
My annual fan contracts have evolved over the years with regards to the Fire and the sport of soccer in general. Whereas I used to sign up for the atmosphere, or the results themselves, now I sign for the athletics, the ideas, and the story of the competition. Sometimes, I even take my Saturday afternoons soccer-free.
I don’t have to sing or cry anymore. I salute those fans, those who sign the emotional fan contract. They’re stronger than I. They’re the ones singing at Toyota Park against Red Bulls in the cold. They’re the ones proving the word fan comes from fanatic. They’re the ones spending hours upon hours on tifo or travelling all over the country, dealing with airports and buses and Kansas City. Those fans carry the club. They’re as much a part of the team as the players.
- TIFO TIMELAPSE: The work put in to create home opener tifo
But then, I’m not one of them. I’m a different kind of fan. I’m a supporter, in the true sense of that word. I want the team to do well and I want to support it towards its goals. My contract with the team is to be a part of that progression.
Nowadays, that supporter contracts costs me two things: my money and my time. I pay to watch the games and I give my time to watch and read about my team.
But as a supporter, I can’t stand the occasional debates about who the “real” fans are. They’re tiresome. The truth is that it’s simply difficult in MLS to figure out the “right” way to support your team. Young, and comprised of mostly young organizations, it’s a unique league in the world of soccer. Doesn’t it come with a different kind of contract for us to sign now as fans, supporters, consumers, and participants?
In MLS, there is for us American soccer fans the first chance in a generation to support our local team. Our team in our city. Our contract with the league and our team in the league is about something bigger. It’s about the idea of growing something that is ours.
Our participation, now, is the basis of American soccer.
It’s in that umbrella of growth, that fungal tarpaulin, under which we all stand together. Hipster craft beer MLS fans, soccer moms, whatever. We all struggle with our responsibility, caught between fandom and supporterdom, between Saturday afternoons and the bar - but that’s ok. That’s part of the uniqueness of our American soccer contract. We get to carve out our own relationships with the team and the league. Like a cartoon rumble, we define it as it defines us, and we roll together down the hill.
Some of us will go to the stadium once a year for the tailgate while others go every week out of unshakeable loyalty to the badge; some of us will go to see a new tactical development while others want to see a guy they played against in high school - the point is that we’re all there. Supporters and fans, side by side.
In the end all the arguments about MLS fans are pointless because there is only one way to watch the game. It’s the way that makes you want to watch, follow, and maybe buy a shirt or a ticket. That’s the way we build this thing - so go and find your way.
Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.
How is it that Quincy Amarikwa doesn’t have a neutral gear? What super power would he like to possess? Also, what exactly is #QuincyTime?
Answers to all these questions in Both Sides of the Badge, presented by Quaker:
It's MATCHDAY and if you're anything like @ChicagoFire on Twitter, you woke up doing this, this morning:
We here at Chicago-Fire.com want to see how excited you are for today's game. Tweet or Instagram photos and videos of how you're getting ready for the season opener vs. Chivas USA and we'll post some of the best ones here throughout the day. One random submission will also win a brand new primary kit!
The Chicago Fire is proud to show its ongoing support for the Greater Chicago Food Depository by participating in the organization’s Social Donation Plate campaign. The objective of the campaign is to help raise awareness and collect funds for hunger relief this holiday season.
The campaign features special, customized social donation plates from prominent Chicago figures, institutions and teams. Supporters of the cause will be asked to virtually “sign” their favorite plate and make a modest donation. Once a donation is made, the user experience allows individuals to “pass the plate” to friends via social media.
In support of hunger relief, the Fire has created a social donation plate for fans and supporters to virtually sign and pass along within the community.
“We’re happy to continue our partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and assist them in their efforts to raise awareness and funds for hunger relief,” said Chicago Fire Senior Director of Community Relations Jessica Yavitz. “I think the social donation plate campaign is a great way for our fans to engage in the cause, as well. We’re thrilled to help promote this unique project and collaborate to end hunger in our community.”
To sign the Fire plate, please visit click here.
Since 2001, the Mock World Cup Draw has been a fixture of sorts in the Crandall Household. Let’s be real though, the scale of it was quite small and usually just consisted of me pulling names out of a hat alone in my room.
Alas, Wednesday I took advantage of the soccer constituency available around the club’s Toyota Park office and welcomed my co-workers to the 2014 Chicago Fire Mock World Cup draw in Conference Room 1...
All of the spelled out procedures for Friday’s draw were followed, such as pulling the odd ninth team out of the European Pot. Fire Season Ticket Services Representative Emily Morris assisted with this and randomly selected England.
We also automatically placed hosts Brazil into Group A…
And then began placing the remaining seven seeds into their groups...
Which ended up looking like this...
Then in order to place England into a group, we put the four South American teams back into a Pot, and drew....
Finally, we drew the mixed South America/Africa pot and came away with this grouping...
Emily then began to draw the mixed CONCACAF/AFC pot...With many in the room holding U.S. and Mexico cheering interests, this proved most dramatic...
The European pot was the last to be drawn, adding to the drama and finality of the mock draw. A proud U.S. Men's National Team supporter, Emily was left doing this face after completing the draw...
And this is why...
Suffice to say, no U.S. fan came away from this exercise doing this...
...but thankfully, I'm not Sepp Blatter and this thing was just for fun.
Do your own mock draw ahead of Friday's official event (the spelled out procedures can be found here). Then join us for our World Cup Draw Bracket Brunch Friday from 10am-noon at Fado (100 W. Grand Ave.).
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.
- DOWNLOAD: 2014 Home Regular Season Schedule (PDF)
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.
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.
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.
7am - Everton vs Manchester City
9am - Liverpool vs Crystal Palace
11:30am - Sunderland vs Manchester United
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.