March 21, 1998. Major League Soccer’s first set of expansion teams, the Miami Fusion and Chicago Fire play their inaugural match against each other at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Tension mounts by the minute with both sides searching for the first goal in their franchise’s history. With only a quarter of the game left to play, a scoreless draw looked to be in the cards but the match was injected with a swift jolt of adrenaline following Roman Kosecki’s 76th minute finish, putting the Fire ahead 1-0. The goal was the first of many for the Polish international and his first-year club on their on their way to the unprecedented American double: winning the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup championships in the same year.
“I remember Lubos [Kubik] and I flew in one day before that game,” Kosecki reminisced from his home in Poland Tuesday. “We flew on the plane together and we’re both a little tired. That all went away when I scored the club’s first goal and we earned our first win against Miami.”
One of the best remembered players from that 1998 double-winning team, fans will have the chance to reminisce about the former Polish international this week when his son Jakub returns to the Fire pitch with Legia Warsaw as part of the Chicago Sister Cities International Tournament.
Recently named the top youth player in the Polish league, the 19-year-old is happy to return to a familiar place.
“It’s amazing to come here as a professional player myself,” said the younger Kosecki following Tuesday’s training session at Toyota Park. “I’m excited to visit the club my father played for and a place where I spent a year of my life. Chicago is an amazing city and a place I’ve grown to love.”
Touted as a fleet-footed winger and striker (though Roman jokes, “not as quick as his father”), the diminutive player has mainly featured in the Legioniści’s youth team but did appear in one league and two cup matches for the first team this season. After the club ended its campaign with an uncharacteristic fourth place finish, it seems more opportunity will be on the horizon for the young striker.
“It wasn’t a good season for the club because we didn’t qualify for Europe or do very well in the cup. We were one point away from rescuing something from our season but it didn’t happen. For us this isn’t normal. We want to be champions every year and this was a bad season. Next season will be better and I hope to play more.”
Though unable to attend this week’s tournament, the elder Kosecki is particularly excited for his son’s opportunity to play in Chicago.
“I’m very happy for him. The people that supported me during my time there will get to see my son now and do the same for him. Who knows? Maybe in the future Jakub will play for the Chicago Fire as well. H It’s something we talked about many times at home. When we’ve watched the DVD’s from my time in Chicago I’ve told him, ‘Jakub if you happen to play in MLS in the future, you should really play for the Chicago Fire.’”
Though maybe not imminent, if the opportunity arose for the youngster to follow in his father’s footsteps, it seems he would be more than happy to oblige.
“It would be amazing to play in Chicago. I remember when my father played at Soldier Field I would watch the team and run around that massive stadium. Now they have their own stadium and this is a place I’d love to play every week. I love this city and the people here, I’d be proud to play for the Fire in the future.”
It’d be wrong for Kosecki to get of himself, the task ahead is Wednesday night’s Sister Cities International Cup semifinal against Red Star Belgrade. The winner of that match will play the victor of the night’s first match between the host Chicago Fire and current French Cup champions Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday night.
“This is a great tournament that serves to provide a lot of competition with three very good teams to play against. PSG has great players, Red Star finished second in their league and the Fire have been one of the best teams in MLS since 1998. We’re looking forward to both matches, whoever we play and I’m looking forward to playing in front of the community that supporter my father a decade ago.”