After losing to Dallas in the 1999 MLS semifinals, Chicago was eager to begin the 2000 campaign. Days before the 2000 opener, the Fire acquired Bulgarian World Cup legend Hristo Stoitchkov to join recent MLS SuperDraft selections UCLA star Carlos Bocanegra and U.S. U-17 standout DaMarcus Beasley (pictuerd right). The Fire would open the season in a physical fashion, playing the first four matches with a man carded and sent off in each. In spite of the turbulent start, the “Men in Red” would battle past adversity to make it back to the top.
To begin the 2000 season, Chicago faced Dallas on the road in a high scoring March 18th match. Hristo Stoitchkov (pictured below, left) played the role of goal scorer, netting two goals for the Fire. However, Stoitchkov’s efforts were not enough to maintain the lead as the Burn scored three more in the second half to defeat the Fire 4-2. After narrowly falling to Kansas City in the following match, the Fire found its first win of the season with a 2-0 victory over Columbus to kick off the month of April.
In the games leading up to the home opener, weekly ejections caused shifts in the Fire line-up. The “Men in Red” still managed to find their stride in the April 15th home opener, downing Miami 1-0 with a goal from Stoitchkov. The Bulgarian powerhouse shared the scoring duties in the next home match as four different Fire players tallied for the 5-1 win over Tampa Bay. Peter Nowak and John Wolyniec scored in the first half- a first Fire goal for Wolyniec- to take the lead from the Mutiny while Ante Razov and Lubos Kubik contributed in the second.
Though the Fire saw many ups and downs in its record, Stoitchkov and Razov remained consistent for the Fire in the attack. For the third consecutive time, Ante Razov led the team in scoring, netting 18 goals- a career best and a team record. He became the first player in Fire history to record a hat trick on May 6th with a flurry of second half goals against Miami in Chicago’s 3-0 road win. Razov’s attacking prowess earned him MSL Player of the Week honors in week 7, week 8, and week 20.
Fire rookies Carlos Bocanegra and Evan Whitfield each earned their first MLS career goals in the summer months, with Whitfield scoring in the June 10th loss to Miami and Bocanegra scoring to tie the July 21st match against Colorado. Josh Wolff (pictured right) also contributed to the Fire’s attacking efforts with his spectacular showing in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. After dominating the Texas Rattlers in the second round with a 4-0 score line, the Fire faced the Chicago Sockers in the third, passing the PDL team by one with a goal by Wolff in the first half. The August 9th quarterfinal saw Fire history as the “Men in Red” beat Dallas 5-1 on four goals and one assist by Wolff alone. Wolff’s four goal performance was not only the second hat trick in Fire history but also set a new Fire record for most individual goals in a single game. The seasoned forward did not disappoint in the semifinal, netting the golden goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Fire would raise its second U.S. Open Cup trophy in its short three-year history after defeating the Miami Fusion 2-1 on October 21st.
The Fire closed out regular season play with a six game unbeaten streak that started with a 2-1 win over Los Angeles on August 19th. During that streak, the baby of the squad, DaMarcus Beasley, received a standing ovation when he netted his first professional goals on August 30th against Dallas.
The Fire used the momentum from the regular season to begin a successful run in the MLS Cup. After beating the Revolution in the first round series and the MetroStars in the semifinal series, the Fire was ready to take on the Kansas City Wizards in the MLS Cup Final. In a match played on October 15th at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., Kansas City ran out to an early lead through Danish international Miklos Molnar’s 11th minute strike. The Fire responded by barraging Wizards keeper Tony Meola with 22 shots, forcing the U.S. National Team keeper to make an MLS Cup Final record 10 saves. In spite of Chicago’s efforts, Kansas City would hold on to defeat the Fire 1-0 in the final.
Chicago finished the season with an overall record of 17-9-6 and established a league-best 13-2-1 home record. While the Fire lost the Supporters Shield on a tie breaker with Kansas City, the “Men in Red” won the Central Division (a new conference joined after league expansion and reorganization) Title and scored a league-high 67 goals.
The 2000 season was also full of individual achievements. With his ever-electrifying performances on the field, Hristo Stoitchkov caught the eye of soccer aficionados around the world. Stoitchkov managed to overcome injury to tally nine goals and seven assists (25 points in 987 minutes) to rank second on the team in scoring. Peter Nowak and Diego Gutierrez led the team in assists with 14 and 13, respectively. Defensively, Carlos Bocanegra (pictured right) stepped up big for the Fire, playing solidly throughout the season, and was bestowed with the Kellogg’s Rookie of the Year award by MLS. Chris Armas, Peter Nowak, and Hristo Stoitchkov were all named to the MLS Best XI while Razov and Zach Thornton joined Armas and Nowak in the MLS All-Star Game. The Fire honored Nowak as the team MVP, Razov as the Scoring Champion (Golden Boot), and Bocanegra as Defender of the Year. The combination of veteran experience and rookie energy would position the Fire for a successful push in the coming season.