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22 October 4:30 pm

When Sasha Chanoff, the founder of RefugePoint, reached out to the Fire’s ownership about hosting a family at Saturday’s Fire game that seemed like the least we could do.  

The Lokango family, a Congolese refugee family (whose lives RefugePoint saved) are new arrivals in Chicago. Prior to Chicago, they were living as refugees in Kenya for a number of years. Not only did they suffer unspeakably before escaping the Congo, but the 13-year-old, Emile, was shot in the leg in Nairobi because they were living in a dangerous area where refugees had become targets.

RefugePoint’s Cheryl Hamilton, who escorted the family to Toyota Park, had met them a few months ago in Nairobi and worked with RefugePoint to get them out as soon as possible. They are overjoyed and overwhelmed with relief to finally be in Chicago and safe.

Sasha and Cheryl knew Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman and had worked with the Hauptman family as they had hosted a fundraiser for RefugePoint in the past. Additionally, in 2010, RefugePoint's effort in protecting the world’s most vulnerable refugees was awarded with the prestigious Charles Bronfman Prize (one of whose founders is Andrew Hauptman). As the boys also love soccer, Cheryl knew that it would be a warm Chicago welcome for them to come and experience a Chicago Fire game.  They were seen cheering on the Fire and high-fiving other supporters after Mike Magee’s magical penalty kick.

In the end, it was an honor to host the family and for them to be recognized on field during Saturday’s game against Toronto.  Their story touched everyone who met them at Toyota Park on Saturday, and they definitely brought the Men in Red good luck as well.

For more on RefugePoint and the hundreds of families they help (including the Lokango’s) visit http://www.refugepoint.org/.

22 October 4:15 pm

Move over Jeff Larentowicz, there's a new ninja in town.

Check out Austin Berry's mad skills as he cuts off a great Toronto FC through ball. Hiyah!!

21 October 1:46 pm

What's more awesome than watching a Mike Magee penalty kick conversion? Watching a Mike Magee penalty kick conversion in slow motion, of course!

With the magic of a GoPro camera, a talented videographer (@laflores037), and some editing software, we're able to make it happen.

Check out this sweet video below, and remember to tweet your support of #MikeMageeMVP!

 

21 October 12:22 pm

There were shots off the post, a disallowed goal, more Sean Johnson saves, the dramatic contexts of playoff contention and the last regular season home game of the season - Saturday’s win had a handful of talking points, but it had really only one truly interesting scene: Mike Magee’s game winning penalty.

Because despite the atmosphere and everything that was at stake, the game, in fact was pretty flat. Maybe it was the rain-soaked field, maybe it was a bit of nerves but Fire fans had to be uncomfortable when they saw the first 10 minutes with little of the urgency, high pressure, and high defensive line that pushed the team to those two huge away wins in D.C. and Dallas. Toronto was finding gaps all over the field to exploit and if it wasn’t for such bad finishing by Robert Earnshaw, they would’ve been in front.

The Fire grew into the game, however, and were in control when Magee scored the winning penalty. Then, as we’ve seen for the past month or so, the Fire managed the remainder of the and took all the points.

So maybe it’s good that it wasn’t a spectacle of high drama. Maybe it was just a professional victory -- a cold blooded three point snatch.

But then there was Magee’s PK.

Just a few weeks ago, Magee hit the crossbar with what would’ve been a game winning PK against Montreal. It cost the Fire two crucial points. “Tonight's on me,” he said after the game. “It won't be the last one I miss but I'm confident taking them and I'll bury the next one.”

It’s more or less the approach you expect from someone leading the league in goals and there aren’t many better opportunities to pad your stats than from the penalty spot.

And yet, and YET, Saturday’s PK was terrifying. I didn’t like the way Magee looked, I didn’t like his set up. He kept wiping his hands, and he started his run-up exactly at the whistle. You can often tell if a player’s going to score their PK based on their face, their calm, their approach, and their cool. We all know Magee is cool in front of goal, but wouldn’t the Montreal miss be on his mind? There he was, right in front of Section 8, back in his home city, a stadium chanting MVP - it was a moment, just a second or two, where some people might have thought about the whole chaos of the season. All the missed chances, all the posts they hit, all the points they dropped, all the mistakes and antagonism and pressure.

It happened so fast. Magee didn’t let the moment fester. He knew what he was going to do. He knows where the goal is. He wipes his hands, he tugs his shorts down a bit, he looks at the ref waiting for the whistle. When it comes he leaps off the line like a 5k start, skips a bit to the left of the ball, and approaching it that way, executes the deftest of chips right into where the goalie’s chest would’ve been if he hadn’t dove down to his right, where he thought Magee would go.

What I love about the way he took it is that he seemed to beat the rhythm of the game. I wanted a dramatic pause. I wanted to consider the entire season in the moment, and I wanted him to look straight at the keeper with fire in his eyes, like Rivaldo in 2002. But then, that’s what makes him such a good finisher, isn’t it? It’s the way he seems to catch defenders and goalies unaware. For some goals he’s quicker than you think he can be, and for others he seems to wait an eternity before calmly putting it away. The PK on Saturday was a combination of both. It had the quickness to take a few people by surprise (and short circuit any nerves), and the calmness to chip a Pirlo-esque panenka in front of thousands of people, in the most important game of the season.

After the game, Magee admitted he had some nervousness: “Normally I get up there and don't think twice about missing, and this time the last one off the back of the post was on my mind, so I figured I couldn't hit it off the post if I shot it up the middle.”

Even when admitting nerves, he sounds like the doubt in his mind didn’t really make him fear not scoring, it just pushed him to score differently.

And so now the Fire go to New York with nerves and doubts, but like Magee, they’ll have to use those doubts to push forward. They’ve learned from their mistakes against Montreal (and Columbus, and etc. etc.) but for three games in a row they’ve managed games and have a chance to finish the season the way Magee finished his PK: maybe a little afraid of the posts, maybe not exactly with the suave calmness of a secure playoff spot, but with a chance to kill it off, take the points, and head into the playoffs.

21 October 8:56 am

On Sunday, Chicago’s third annual Chicago Ideas Week (CIW) officially came to a close.  The Fire were excited to be one of two sports teams in town (the other being the Bulls) to participate.  CIW has quickly grown to be Chicago’s premier event for sharing ideas, inspiring action, and igniting change to positively impact our world and getting invited to participate is a great honor.

More than 30 students came to Toyota Park on Friday afternoon to join in our Youth Lab.  Representatives from each area of the Front Office set aside their time to give the group a behind-the-scenes look at the Fire, from getting ready  for game day to what it takes to be a good corporate citizen, to what it really takes if you want to work in sports.  The evening wrapped with an all-access tour of Toyota Park.

While we’re sad to see another Chicago Ideas Week come and go, we were definitely happy to play host this year (even late on a Friday afternoon).  Check out https://www.chicagoideas.com/ for more great content from this year’s week. 

20 October 5:13 pm

I'm not going to bog you down with a bunch of math, it is Sunday afterall.

Following New York's 3-0 win today at Houston, the Eastern Conference playoff picture has become very clear heading into the final week of the season.

First I give you the updated table via MLSsoccer.com:

 

Now, the remaining Eastern Conference fixture list...

Saturday, October 26
Philadephia Union  vs. Sporting KC - 2pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact - 3pm CT (MLS Live)

Sunday, October 27
D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo - 12:30pm CT (NBC)
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution - 3:00pm CT (MLS Live)
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire - 4:00pm CT (My50/Time Warner Sports WI)

The Chicago Fire can qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs the following ways...

- Win at New York
- Draw/lose at New York and have either Houston draw/lose at D.C. or New England draw/lose at Columbus
- Draw at New York AND Montreal lose at Toronto
 
The Fire can clinch the East's third seed if...

- Win at New York AND Toronto FC win/draw vs. Montreal
- Draw at New York AND Montreal loses at Toronto FC AND New England draws/loses at Columbus AND Houston draws/loses at D.C.

19 October 11:54 pm
Quote Sheet
Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC
Toyota Park – Bridgeview, IL
Saturday, October 19
 
Frank Klopas, Chicago Fire Head Coach
 
Thoughts on the team’s 1-0 win over Toronto FC…
 
“I think we wanted to make sure this wouldn’t be our last game here at home. It was a good atmosphere tonight and I thought the guys came out and from the start we talked about the field being heavy a little bit with the rain, maybe at times, depending on how the field as to be a little more direct out of the back and play smart. I thought we were good the first half – we created chances and we corrected some things at halftime. We created a lot of opportunities but we were just a little bit unlucky. We didn’t make it as exciting as it was in the end. It was a great result for us in a game where we needed to get the three points and all credit to the team and my players. We’ll enjoy tonight and go back to work tomorrow to prepare for New York.”
 
On not being able to clinch a playoff berth tonight with New England’s win over Columbus…
 
“I think the way the league is when you look at both divisions, the one thing we talked about is just making sure we take care of business and focus on ourselves. Regardless of the other scores, if we don’t get the three points tonight it doesn’t really matter what happens with the other teams. We focused on putting ourselves in a great spot, the team stuck together and I think all these games, even adversity in the beginning has made us a better team. I think you get better through difficult moments and I feel this team right now is better in that sense than the team I had last year winning 17 games. We don’t clinch tonight, it doesn’t matter, we just focus on the next game and it’s exciting to have the opportunity to play another game because one day going by without soccer is not a good day for us. We’re glad we have another one next week and then hopefully more games after that.”
 
On Jeff Larentowicz’s yellow card meaning he’ll miss the season finale at New York…
 
“Jeff is a veteran player but we rely on the team. We’ve talked about this since the beginning and I think there are moments in the season where you’re going to rely on everyone. Jeff has been fantastic for us but other guys will step in and get the job done.”
 
On Mike Magee being a legitimate candidate for MLS MVP after winning the team award Saturday night…
 
“I think with Mike the most important thing is helping the team win, regardless of if he scores or not. That’s the kind of competitor he is. Obviously his performance on the field and what he’s done to be able to change our team since he’s been here – he definitely has to be considered. He’s had a big impact with our team and I think he for sure deserves the award because I’m his coach. I hope he gets it but he’s definitely been a huge part to get our team to the point where it is right now.”
 
On Juan Luis Anangono’s high shot rate and hitting the woodwork twice Saturday night…
 
“The positive thing is that he’s creating opportunities. I think it’s going to come and as a forward you have to have a mentality that you want the next opportunity, regardless if you’re missing or not. Juan does so much work off the ball that he’s a threat every time we get the ball to be able to play in depth and he stretches the opposing team out. In the first half we could have done a better job with his movement and finding Mike [Magee] between the lines because there were big gaps between there and we didn’t find him enough. But he works so hard with the ball, without the ball – he’s creating opportunities and it’s going to come. I think he’s got that kind of mentality and as a forward you say ‘give me that next opportunity’. In a game it’s the next play. There’s nothing you can do to go back. He’s a positive guy, he created chances, he hit the post today, next week it’ll go in.”
 
On how closely he followed the New England/Columbus game…
 
“I looked at it. Believe me every time I went back – I saw 2-2 then I saw 3-2 – you look at that. At the end, it’s really up to us, so regardless of what they do, if we take care of business then we’re there and it’s a credit to everyone in this organization. You look at it, it’s hard not to but I think we just have to focus on ourselves – that’s the important thing. We put ourselves in the spot where it really is up to us.”
 
Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire Midfielder
 
Thoughts on the team’s performance in the 1-0 win over Toronto FC…
 
“We gutted it out. I thought Toronto played tough and although we had a lot of chances they held on. We got a break on the PK and we win the game. At this point in the year we’re faced with the challenge of having to win games and we’re doing that.”
 
On the disappointment on receiving a yellow card and missing the regular season finale next Sunday at New York…
 
“It’s extremely disappointing. The guys will be alright. I have faith in everyone here and they know the task at hand – they’ll take care of business.”
 
On the team’s spirit after three straight wins allowing them to knock on the door of playoff qualification…
 
“There’s confidence but we need to keep it in check. We know we have to be smart and I think that’s what we’ve done the last few games – we’ve been a lot smarter than we have in the past in terms of finishing games out and getting the results that we need. Going into New York I’m sure there’s going to be a lot on the line for them and for us as well. It’ll be a tough game but one where I think we can get a result.”
 
Feelings on seeing Mike Magee convert the penalty kick after missing his take three weeks ago vs. Montreal…
 
“It felt great, that’s the game-winning goal. We’ve had confidence in Mike, we know he has confidence in himself and that’s what we expect out of him. He stepped up and I’m sure it was on his mind the last few games but to finish it the way he did shows the confidence he has.”
 
On if he thinks Mike Magee should be MLS MVP…
 
“Absolutely, there’s no question. The guy that scores the most goals in the league is someone that’s having a good year. I think an MVP has to be on the team that’s winning and competing for championships. He’s said all along that his goal is to get into the playoffs and whatever happens after that happens. We’re with him on that. We hope he continues to score goals and I think if we get into the playoffs he should get it.”
 
Patrick Nyarko, Chicago Fire Midfielder
 
On the push to the end of the season:
 
"The momentum is building and we need to keep our concentration focused to the last day and hopefully into the playoffs."
 
On the result:
 
"I thought we had control of the game.  We created chances and were hitting the post, but their threat was on the set pieces and in these kinds of games you can really not count the other team out even if you have control because one set piece and they can put you behind.  I think we had control of the game, created chances when we wanted to, but we just couldn't put the game away. it's good we got the one goal and we walked it out."
 
On the play of Juan Luis Anangono:
 
"There was great awareness [of his position], he made good runs and people put the ball right there for him.  It's unfortunate that you're going to get these kinds of games where you hit it well and it still comes off the post.  Hopefully when we really need it, it will go in."
 
On following the results of other teams in contention tonight:
 
"I took a peek a little bit up on the board, but it didn't really affect me.  Like I said, I want us to stay focused, coming down to the last day might be an advantage for us with the momentum that we are building now and trying to build going into the playoffs.
 
I'd look up at the scoreboard when we'd win corners or when walking back if it was on the scoreboard, I'd take a peek and say to myself, 'I hope next time it comes up that it changes.'  We have to focus on ourselves, we have control of our own destiny and we hope to clinch it next week."
 
On next week:
 
"It doesn't make a difference [that the other games are starting before the Fire], because the guys in the locker room are experienced enough to know that it's about us now.  We are not looking for the results to get us in.  We need to get our own result to get us in.  I think we have experienced guys we are not going to pay attention that and will stay focused on the game at hand, which is New York and will be a tough game." 
 
Mike Magee, Chicago Fire forward
 
On taking the penalty:
 
"All that was going through my head was, ‘don't miss.’  I got up there with all the confidence in the world, I was looking at the goal and it looked a little smaller than normal to be honest.  I was never going to miss that."
 
On his approach:
 
"I tried to take a little glance at the goalie, and the approach is that I had to score.  Like I said, the goal was a little smaller than normal.  Normally I get up there and don't think twice about missing, and this time the last one off the back of the post was on my mind, so I figured I couldn't hit it off the post if I shot it up the middle."
 
On the game next week:
 
"We've got to win it next week from the way I see it.  I'm not going to watch other scores or anything like that.  I'm going to keep in the back of my head that we have to go to New York and get a result.  Until someone tells me we're in the playoffs, otherwise the other games are meaningless and this is the biggest game of the year for our team."
 
On the fans chanting MVP:
 
"It's awesome.  I'm in my city, the city that I love and hearing them chant that with my family in the stands is huge.  Having said that, I know what's really at stake and it's not an MVP award or a Golden Boot Award, or any other award, it's about getting to the playoffs and knowing anything can happen from there.  It feels good, don't get me wrong, but to be honest it's the last thing on my mind."
 
Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire goalkeeper
 
On the defense's performance:
 
"I thought the guys in front of me did a fantastic job tonight.  They were organized, one the same page, communication was there and the most important thing is that we came away with three points and that's what we were looking to do tonight.  At the end of the day the clean sheet is a bonus, winning the game is the most important thing.  As long as we get three points and play well, we don't care what the score is, we'll take it and run with it.  We're trying to make the playoffs and shutouts, if they're not wins in some games, don't help get you into the playoffs. We need to keep doing out jobs, both offensively and defensively we've been on fire and need to keep that going into New York."
 
On losing Larentowicz for the game next week:
 
"We have players that can step at any point in time.  He's an important player to our team, but we've got the depth, like we've shown, to have players come in and contribute.  Everybody can come in and step-up and play their part to help get us into the playoffs.  It's about getting results, so we'll use practice this week to prepare for whomever is going to be in there, and we're going to be ok."
 
Toronto FC Head Coach Ryan Nelsen
 
On being encouraged the team has played almost 250 minutes without giving up a goal:
 
“Of course.  I feel so sorry for the players.  We’ve taken both these games, the Philadelphia and Chicago games as a playoff games since both these teams desperately needed points.  In both games they’ve been absolutely fantastic.  It’s been two set pieces that have broken them down.  And the chances we had in the first half, they were incredibly good chances.  But we have to finish.  We didn’t.  And then you leave it in the hands of the gods, or maybe not a god, but a refereeing decision that I think when he looks back at and sees it, he’ll probably say he’s made a bit of a mistake.  But unfortunately that’s long gone and I won’t be holding my breath to hear a sorry from that one.”
 
On being patient playing the game with Chicago’s playoff implications:
 
“We knew they needed to win, and we knew that if we were solid, we’d get into situations on the counter attack which we did in the first half.  But we knew we’d have our opportunities, and what we didn’t want to do was go down early.   Because that obviously gives them life and the pressure goes off them.  As soon as that goal went in, we had to go out of our shell a little bit and our formation and structure and they got a little life.  Before that goal, the crowd was getting uneasy, they’re uneasy.  It was a very comfortable situation, and then again, the referee’s left his fingerprint on the game.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t stay out of the news.  That’s life, and we move on.”
 
On Stefan Frei’s performance:
 
“That save that Stefan made would probably be for me, the save of the season.  I haven’t seen it again but just from watching it live, I can’t think of any save that I’ve seen.  He walks into 80 or 90 per cent of any MLS team and he’s the starting goalkeeper.  He walks into there and he starts.  That’s so lucky for us to have.  Unfortunately Joe’s been so good as well.  He’s been absolutely fantastic.  And he hasn’t had many games and then to come and put a performance like that is a credit to Stefan.”
 
Toronto FC Captain and Defender Steven Caldwell
 
On the match:
 
“Difficult match for us.  We felt we played pretty well.  We were in the game.  We had to defend for periods, but had the ball and created some opportunities.  Very disappointing with the penalty kick decision.  We felt that it was a very poor decision by the referee and it cost us a point, or possibly three.”
 
On the young midfield that got minutes today:
 
“Yea, the two guys in the middle were outstanding.  I felt that Reggie Lambe on the left and Kyle Bekker coming in and not having an opportunity all season and probably being frustrated with that, and comes into a big game and play so well, and in a role that is not his favored role.  He defended a lot and was breaking things up.  I am extremely proud of them, they were magnificent.”
 
On finishing off the season strong:
 
“We want to win, obviously, we have one game to go; against Montreal.  Sort of a derby match.  And they are obviously fighting for the playoffs too.  I think that anyone that’s been or seen the last two matches between Philadelphia and Fire, we are treating these games as being extremely important to us because we are building the team and hoping to be in this position next season.  We’re putting everything into them.  We’ve been extremely unlucky with two games and coming away with nothing.  We will be going out there next week, last home game, last game of the season and we’ll be trying to get the three points against our rivals.”
 
Toronto FC Goalkeeper Stefan Frei
 
On the team’s performance tonight:
 
“We put together a pretty decent performance and it’s extremely frustrating not to get a tie out of it at least.  There’s some positives to take from it.  We knew that this was going to be a tough atmosphere for us and it was a very important game for Chicago.  They want to bring everything and try to get into the playoffs.  So great, great learning experience for us.  I think we handled the first half extremely well and they had a couple of chances and lots of corner kicks throughout the game but we handled those set pieces well.  No chances came from them.  That one goal came from a set piece and but it was from the middle referee.  But like I said, lots of positives to take from this match.  We knew we were out of the playoff hunt a long time ago and it’s more about growing as a team.”
 
On next week’s final regular season match versus Montreal:
 
“Again, it will be the same atmosphere and they’re going to know what they need to do in order to get into the playoffs.  Obviously Toronto and Montreal don’t get along and we will try to play spoiler for sure.”
19 October 11:03 pm

Select shots from the Fire's 1-0 win over Toronto FC.

CREDIT: Brian Kersey, Chicago Fire

18 October 2:45 pm

We continue our Three Questions series, hitting up TFC beat reporter Kurtis Larson to see what's going on with the Reds ahead of Saturday's match...

Jeff Crandall: For the seventh straight season, Toronto FC once again find themselves without a postseason berth. What is the mood around this club in Ontario and is there more hope that under the leadership of Tim Leiweke TFC will begin to realize its potential on the field?

Kurtis Larson: I think there's a bit of cautious optimism circulating the city. Fans have been through this song and dance before. The difference this time around is that TFC has been granted a budget of $26 million to spend on a pair of Designated Players this off-season. Head Coach Ryan Nelsen and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke returned from a European scouting trip this week where they met with agents and clubs.

For once, the team has its salary cap under control after offloading a number of big contracts. During the off-season, you'll see big-money guys like Danny Koevermans and Stefan Frei leave as well. That's a huge turn of events for a team that's always had a ton of guys on cap-killing salaries who have been injured or underperformed.

As a result, fans are optimistic Nelsen has the tools he needs to bring in new talent. And that, combined with the club signing new GM Tim Bezbatchenko, has some fans thinking TFC might turn a corner next year and at least push for a playoff spot.

JC:  Stefan Frei hasn’t played an MLS match in two years but with Joe Bendik suspended, the Swiss ‘keeper finds himself in the ironic spot of making his return between the sticks and quite possibly his last appearance for TFC Saturday. How has he approached this week and what is his form like, i.e. how has he performed in reserve matches?

KL: No one is more respected at this club than Stefan Frei, who was arguably one of the top three 'keepers in the league from 2009-10. Had it not been for a horrible spell of injuries -- a broken leg in 2012 and a broken nose this preseason -- he'd likely still have a job.

That said, that was then, this is now and Frei's form is somewhat of an unknown seeing as TFC has only played a handful of reserve games at home this season.

It's imperative that Chicago tests Frei early in this one and makes him work. I'm not entirely confident he'll be able to shake off the cobwebs as quickly as most think.

Don't forget, Frei and Toronto FC were shelled 6-0 the last time the Swiss-born 'keeper was in goal when the Montreal Impact laid waste to TFC in a Canadian Cup match. That couldn't have been good for his confidence.

JC: No matter what they do in their final two matches, Toronto FC will finish ninth in the Eastern Conference. With their first round draft pick sent to Vancouver in the Eric Hassli trade, Toronto has virtually nothing to play for. Still, is the team still approaching Saturday’s game vs. Chicago and the season finale vs. Montreal with something to prove?

KL: I think most of the players will be delighted if they can spoil a few playoff dreams over the next two weeks. Toronto knows Chicago is desperate for three points and will be looking to do what it can to prevent the Fire from walking into the playoffs.

Ironically, if TFC somehow takes all three points at Toyota Park Saturday, they'll be doing rivals the Montreal Impact a great service. As a result, fans are in a catch-22, similar to what we saw during the Panama-U.S. game this week.

The bigger prize for most TFC fans is knocking off Montreal at BMO Field on the final day of the season to hurt the Impact's post-season chances.

Thanks for your time Kurtis!

Follow him on Twitter @KurtLarSUN.

18 October 11:51 am

Chicago Fire Season Ticket Holders,

As a token of our appreciation for your loyal support in 2013, Toyota Park will be honoring ALL Season Ticket Holder discounts on concessions for Saturday's home regular season finale vs. Toronto FC.

Those are (and where you can find them...)

$2 Popcorn
Miller Lite Party Deck
Stadium Club
Stadium Fare (behind Sections 102, 126)
Fan Favorites (behind Section 110)
Village Grill (behind Section 134)

$2 Hot Dogs
Miller Lite Party Deck
Stadium Fare (behind Sections 102, 126)
Extreme Signature Dogs (behind Section 108)
Fan Favorites (behind Section 110)
Chicago Stop (behind Section 118)
Corner Kickin' Chicken (behind Section 122)

$2 Sodas
Sold at ALL concession stands

Plus complimentary hot chocolate, coffee and cider for premium seat holders (Club, Fieldside, Suites) and 10% off the pre-game buffet in the Stadium Club!