After surpassing all criticism in their inaugural season, the Fire faced a new challenge in 1999. Not only did the team have two titles to defend, MLS Cup Champions and U.S. Open Cup Champions, but the Fire faced a longer season and competition in a third championship. With many veteran players returning, the Fire took the field in late March ready to prove the success of the first season was by no means accidental.
On March 20th, the Fire headed to San Jose to kick off its second season. Ante Razov quickly began to shine as he recorded two goals and an assist in Chicago’s 3-1 victory. Razov netted two goals per game in the Fire’s next two games. He received Player of the Week, Soccer America Team of the Week selection and Player of the Month honors for the month of March and first week of April. After the 4-1 win on April 3rd, Razov became the first player in MLS history to score two goals in three consecutive games. As a team, the Fire had a 4-1 record at the end of April and reigned at the top of the Western Conference.
While the Fire started out strong, the “Men in Red” would not escape adversity and challenge. Chicago battled with Los Angeles, Colorado and Dallas for the top spots in the west all season. When injuries and national team call-ups arose, the younger member of the Fire stepped up under the ever-present direction of Coach Bob Bradley.
In international friendly matches, the Fire went undefeated, beating Legia Warsaw (Poland) and Derby County (England). In U.S. Open Cup competition, the Fire lost to the eventual champion Rochester Rhinos in the third round. At the end of September, Chicago had the opportunity to play in the CONCACAF Champions Cup in Las Vegas. The Fire defeated Joe Public of Trinidad and Tobago 2-0. Ante Razov and Dema Kovalenko, two promising young stars, scored the Fire goals. Chicago dropped its next match to LD Alajuelense but met D.C. United in the third place match. Chicago and D.C. eventually tied for third place in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
In MLS action, the Fire split most of its series with other teams, but Chicago defeated two teams in all of their meetings: the Kansas City Wizards (4-0) and the MetroStars (2-0). Notable matches during the regular season were full of career firsts and physical play. The May 1st game at D.C. not only brought a 3-2 win for the Fire but also resulted in a record eleven cards issued with three men ejected (one for Chicago, two for D.C.). Diego Gutierrez kicked off the career firsts in the 3-1 win over Kansas City on May 22nd. Proving himself as an attacking force, Gutierrez scored his first two MLS goals and marked his first multi-goal game. In an August match with more red cards, for Jerzy Podbrozny and Bradley in the explosive first half, Dema Kovalenko capped off a 5-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids with his first career goal. The month of October ushered in the end of the regular season and the Fire’s first appearance at Columbus Crew Stadium. Though down for the majority of the match, the Fire fought back and forced the game into a shootout off of a late goal by Tom Soehn, his first in MLS. Chicago earned its second straight playoff berth and ended the season ranked third in the conference.
The offense was led by Ante Razov (14 goals, 7 assists, 35 points) and Josh Wolff (10 goals, 2 assists, 22 points). When Wolff was forced to sit out the rest of the season due to a torn ACL, the Fire pulled together to account for the missing forward’s attacking presence. Lubos Kubik and C.J. Brown anchored the defense while Fire Captain Peter Nowak was a crucial part of the midfield. In spite of the injuries and line up adjustments, Chicago found a way back into post-season action.
Facing the Dallas Burn in Western Conference semifinals, the Fire faced a new challenge. The team was undefeated into post-season play, but had never faced the Burn after the regular season. Splitting the regular season series with Dallas 2-2, Chicago knew the post-season encounter would be a battle. Dallas won the first game in the MLS Western Conference semifinals 2-1, the Fire’s first ever post-season loss. The Fire came back to Chicago and shutout the Burn 4-0, sending the series to a third game. Chicago took a 2-0 lead in the final game of the series, but the Burn came back scoring three goals in the second half, for a 3-2 win.
Overall, the Chicago Fire posted an 18-14 record for the 1999 season. Though the Fire was unable to follow the championship success of the previous year, several “Men in Red” received league and team honors. Chris Armas, Lubos Kubik, Peter Nowak, Zach Thornton, and Roman Kosecki all made appearances in the MLS All-Star Game, while Armas and Kubik were named to the MLS/AT&T “Best XI” team. Kubik had a standout year, receiving the Fire/BIC Defender of the Year award as well as the Fire/Honda MVP award. Razov’s offensive efforts earned him the Fire/Budweiser Scoring Champion award. After a hard fought second season, the Fire looked to capitalize on impressive individual showings and strong team performances to regain the titles and honors of the inaugural season.