After a disappointing season, the 2005 Chicago Fire hoped for a fresh start and a new shot at reclaiming the honors of the past. Heading into the new season, the Fire acquired US National Team defender Tony Sanneh (pictured right) and Honduran and former English Premiership defender Ivan Guerrero to bolster the backline. The Fire also signed forward Will Johnson, a Chicago area standout and Canadian U-20 National Team member, as a Discovery Player on February 17th.
The Ring of Fire welcomed a new member in 2005, adding famed defender Lubos Kubik (pictured below, left) to its ranks. Kubik contributed much to the Fire across the 1998, 1999, and 2000 seasons with his dangerous left foot, stellar marking ability, and international experience. The Czech Republic native garnered several honors at the close of the 1998 season, including the 1998 Fire Defender of the Year and 1998 BIC MLS Tough Defender of the Year awards. The defender impressed with his versatility, managing twenty-two assists and fifteen goals in his time with the “Men in Red.” The international veteran also made back to back appearances as a member of the MLS Best XI team in 1998 and 1999. The Fire inducted Kubik on August 5th at Soldier Field for his outstanding service and dedication to the club.
The Fire opened the regular season with an April 2nd match against FC Dallas. As the Fire fell 2-1, the team continued its winless streak in MLS openers, extending the opening drought to three. Undaunted by the loss, the Fire faced D.C. United and battled to a 1-1 draw. The match marked the first career goal for Chris Rolfe and gave the Fire its first point of the 2005 season. The Fire continued to improve, earning the first win of the season against San Jose on April 16th in Chicago’s home opener at Soldier Field. In the following week of play, the “Men in Red” not only tallied another win but also earned their first road win in 363 days (14 games) against the MetroStars on April 22nd. Closing out the month of April, the Fire hosted the New England Revolution on April 27th in front of an impressive Fire crowd of 54,427. Though the Fire dropped the match to the Revs 3-0, the Fire returned to the road on the 30th and dealt Columbus a 2-0 defeat. Justin Mapp’s (pictured right) breakout performance led the Fire to its first road-winning streak since May 2002.
In May, Fire performance wavered, posting a 2-3-0 record, yet the team managed to maintain a second place ranking in the conference. On May 7th, New England beat Chicago for the fifth straight match at Gillette Stadium. A week later, a 3-0 loss to the MetroStars signaled the first time in team history that the Fire dropped consecutive home games. The Fire managed to reverse the score in the 3-0 May 28th victory over the MLS Rookies of Salt Lake City with goals from Chris Armas, Samuel Caballero, and Chad Barrett. The decisive win was the first-ever meeting between the Fire and the expansion Salt Lake side.
As the 4-1-1 record shows, the month of June proved successful for the Fire and showcased the talent of forward Nate Jaqua (pictured below, left). Though battling injury throughout the season, Jaqua recorded a hat trick in the June 4th match against Chivas USA, netting goals in the 2nd, 60th, and 74th minutes. The spectacular feat made Jaqua the fourth player to notch a hat trick in Chicago Fire history. Jaqua continued to find the back of the net in the next two contests against FC Dallas on June 12th and D.C. United on June 15th. The league took notice of the goal-scorer’s efforts, naming Jaqua the Honda MLS Player of the Month for June. The Fire rode the momentum and began a seven-game unbeaten streak, starting with a 1-1 draw against Kansas City on June 18th.
As the Fire collected valuable points at the end of June, rookie Gonzalo Segares opened the month of July with a solid performance to earn his first career tally in the 1-0 win over Chivas USA. The July 2nd win helped the “Men in Red” take over 1st place in the Eastern Conference. Segares repeated the heroics the following week, scoring the game winning goal on July 9th against New England and protecting the top spot in the East. On July 16th, the Fire hosted a double header that set a new all-time attendance mark as 54,432 fans came to see the Fire tie Columbus 1-1 and Spanish power Real Madrid defeat legendary Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara 3-1. The Fire would go another week without a win, falling to Colorado on July 23rd. Will Johnson’s first MLS goal early in the match was not enough to sustain as the Rapids answered with two goals in the first half and two more in the second. Days later, the Fire had to shake off the tough loss and shift its focus to a storied competitor: AC Milan (pictured right). While the Fire lost 3-1, the “Men in Red” earned the respect of the Italian powerhouse in the most high profile international friendly in club history at Soldier Field.
July also saw the third round match of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, pitting the Fire against the Western Mass Pioneers of USL2. With two goals and 1 assist from rookie midfielder Will John, Chicago beat Western Mass 3-1 on July 13th to advance and move one step closer to capturing the title that evaded them in the previous season. The Fire faced a familiar foe in the fourth round and battled the Revs to a thrilling 3-2 win in overtime. The quarterfinals matched the Fire with the Rochester Raging Rhinos of USL1, a match up that would result in the Fire advancing with a 5-4 advantage in penalty kicks. After the win, the Fire was set to face FC Dallas in the semifinals of the Open Cup. An early goal from the Dallas side was enough to defeat the Fire and keep the team from advancing to a third straight USOC final.
In regular season play, John Thorrington earned his first tally in a Fire uniform against Los Angles with a 2-1 victory on August 13th. The Fire’s next win would also come in a match up against LA, beating the Galaxy 2-1 weeks later. Justin Mapp’s “run and gun” Goal of the Year candidate in injury time stunned a sell-out crowd in Carson in the September 4 game. The remaining games of the season brought many notable individual efforts, including Thiago (pictured above, left) scoring a team-best third game winning goal on the season in the 1-0 win over Kansas City and Jesse Marsch tying his career high with his fifth goal in the 2-1 loss to Columbus on October 8th.
Going into the Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Fire was prepared to face D.C. United, a team the Fire posted a 1-2-1 record against throughout regular season play. In the first leg of the series, the Fire tied D.C. United in a scoreless match. The Fire took some confidence from the game, as the Fire became the first team to hold its opposition without a shot on goal in MLS postseason history. The second leg of the series proved to be explosive for the Fire offense, with the Fire dominating D.C. 4-0 and bringing Zach Thornton (pictured right) his 13th career playoff shutout.
An exciting semifinal series set the stage for the Fire to meet the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Championship. In the fourth minute of the contest, Clint Dempsey scored to give the Revs an early lead in the November 16th match. Though Segares (pictured left) appeared to net the equalizer in second half stoppage time, the goal was ruled offside, and the Fire would end the 2005 campaign without adding another championship title.
The Fire ended the 2005 season with a 15-13-4 record overall and a hope to continue to improve on the strides made from the previous season.