oralhistory

Back to the beginning: An oral history of the first Chicago Fire game in Bridgeview

On June 11 2006, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club played its first game in Bridgeview — a “soft opening” in front of season ticket holders and Bridgeview residents. Their opponents that day were New England Revolution — a team the Fire were developing a heated rivalry with at the time. It was a rivalry that would result in several era-defining playoff clashes, and it ensured that the festive occasion of a new stadium was marked with a highly competitive game, capped by a wild finish. Here, members of that first Fire team to play in Bridgeview, some of whom will be in attendance and honored at the team’s final home game of the 2019 season, recall their memories of the day.

Team Photo L-R: Back Row (L to R): Logan Pause, Gonzalo Segares, Nate Jaqua, Zach Thornton, Leonard Griffin, CJ Brown, Front row: Thiago, Chris Armas, Brian Plotkin, Andy Herron, Ivan Guerrero

Calen Carr:

The story for me begins with the long drive up to Lake Forest University. That was the big shift. At that time in the league there weren’t many teams with soccer-specific stadiums at all. I lived in the South Loop at the time and I remember having to pile into a car with Jack Stewart and Zach Thornton as my regular carpool mates. And I was this long-haired, headband-wearing rookie from Berkeley getting in these long car rides with this veteran Zach and basically trying not to say the wrong thing because I was terrified of him! So to now have a short drive to training was a big deal.

Nate Jaqua:

It’s been a little while so the memory’s not perfect, but I do remember being on the road for an extended period and getting updates on the stadium. And then being able to get out there and train on our own field was pretty special.

Andy Herron:

Little things like not sharing locker rooms. Your own storage. It made going to work feel different.

Logan Pause:

It was great anticipation. It was this culmination of feelings and emotions. Excitement, some relief to get back home in front of our home fans after being on the road. A great sense of pride for the community, for the league, for the city, for the Club, to have a home.

Gonzalo Segares:

We were on the road for 9 or 10 games if I recall. So, it was obviously very exciting to finally be able to play at home after so many games on the road. And the excitement at that time of being one of only three or four clubs that actually had soccer-specific stadiums. I think it was Columbus, Dallas, maybe the Galaxy, but that was about it. So, it was just pure excitement to have the doors opening up, at a time when the league was still building up.

Calen Carr:

There had been so much anticipation because we’d spent the first part of the season on the road. And it was a very strange way to start as a rookie, because I had no context for what a normal MLS season was at all. To be on the road for the entirety of pre-season and then for the start of the season and feeling the energy of the fans only at team appearances, or at random moments when some of Section 8 would show up at training just to say hello to us, or check in in advance of the opening. So, to finally get a chance to be at home and play in front of our fans was something we’d looked forward to.

Gonzalo Segares:

The feeling of coming out of the tunnel to a packed stadium, it was just different, right? To experience that with the sound on top of you, gave you goosebumps. The picture I remember and still see at the stadium sometimes was us being in line for the national anthem, and we had these red and white tracksuits with our numbers on them — definitely a special moment for sure.

On New England as rivals

Logan Pause:

We had such a deep-rooted rivalry with New England during that time. (Taylor) Twellman, (Steve) Ralston, (Jay) Heaps. Pat Noonan. Shalrie Joseph. An amazing team of competitors . And we grew hatred for each other, but we also grew this level of respect, because it was two top teams competing. It wasn’t rooted out of geography, it was rooted in the blood, sweat and tears on the field. Both clubs had strong stability in roster year on year in that time, which only enhanced that rivalry. So, if there was any fitting opponent to open up against it was New England.

Andy Herron:

We had a real rivalry with New England in those days.

Calen Carr:

As a rookie coming in, I could feel some of the history and bad blood between the two teams — and little did we know that we were going to meet them in the next few playoffs. So, in some ways this first match was a little bit emblematic of what had come before and foreshadowing of what was to come after. Even still, when I see Jay Heaps, or sometimes even Taylor, I’m like “God, those guys!” (laughs). Even Steve Ralston, who ended up being my coach at Houston. There was always respect between the two teams, because they were such a fantastic side.

Gonzalo Segares:

We’d just come up from losing against them in the Conference finals. Those games against them were battles.

Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution):

Chicago was always a special place for me since my father played there for the Sting and I have had family in that city for over 30 years — so to play at the opening of their new stadium was awesome. We had so many great games between the Fire and the Revs and they were a huge rival of ours.

Calen Carr:

That photo of Gonzo knocking Taylor over that day? He has done that to a lot of players. Even in training, being a rookie, I’d be in the second squad and just playing down the right hand side and going, “Oh gosh, this guy’s going to kill me!” And we were close friends off the field — still are. But he was pretty tough to play against.

And even on the other side, people always ask me who my least favorite player to play against was, and I always say Jay Heaps, because he was so frustrating to play against. It’s a compliment. When you thought you had an extra moment to go against him on the dribble he would jump in, or when you thought he was going to jump in he would drop off. Just great one-v-one defending. That whole team had that personality of the clean-cut All-American guys, and “The Revolution” and that whole thing that comes with it. Through Section 8, I knew the history of the Polish and Mexican-American fans and just the…grit of our history, so when I think about our team versus theirs at the time, we were, and maybe it sounds a little weird to say this, but we felt a little cooler, less square. Chicago versus Boston, right?

Nate Jaqua:

I don’t know about clean cut, but we definitely thought we were more gritty. They had skill up top and a tough defense that I had a lot of battle with. They were the one team who’d knocked us out of the playioffs a couple of times, so there was some anger there. Not in a bad way but we wanted to raise our game each time we played them.

Andy Herron:

The first game was a soft opening — a smaller crowd, but you were seeing season ticket holders you recognized there and it felt great.

All week in training I’d been visualizing scoring the first goal at the stadium and what it would feel like. I was sure I was going to score it.

Nate Jaqua:

That sounds about right for Andy! I don’t know if I thought about a potential goal as a historic one. It was more that were were going up against New England, who we had quite a heated rivalry with at the time, and we were going into our new stadium, and we wanted that to be special and we wanted to get the win. That was the big buzz for me.

Andy Herron:

It was a wild game, and we started really well, and thinking about wanting that first goal, I had a clear chance, and found myself in on goal on a through ball and I got a decent shot off, but (Matt) Reis parried it and the ball went to Nate Jaqua who put it in. So I didn’t get the first goal, but I was happy to be part of it.

Nate Jaqua:

The first one was more like a deflection off the goalkeeper, and I was just there to clean it up. Definitely getting the goal was cool for me, and then scoring again and thinking we’d put away the game…

After another Nate Jaqua goal in the second half, the Fire led 2-0 going into the 87th minute of the game, when Taylor Twellman headed a goal back for the Revs to ignite an extraordinary final sequence.

Gonzalo Segares:

Freakin’ Taylor Twellman…

Andy Herron:

I think Taylor Twellman came back and spoiled it for us. He did that a lot.

Taylor Twellman:

We played the spoiler…

Going into injury time, Carr looked to have won the game for the Fire, with his first-ever MLS goal giving the team a 3-1 lead.

Calen Carr:

I’d been chasing a goal for a while. I remember the ball being squared and Matt Reis coming out and I also remember being able to show a lot more composure than I actually felt at the time, because I was so desperate for a goal! But I remember being able to fake it, take a touch and get him to go down, and from there it was simple to put it in the net. And then I remember the celebration, where I tried to steal a page from Thierry Henry, who was my favorite player ever at Arsenal. And I think he’d just scored not long before, at the last game at Highbury, and kissed the ground, so I was like, “Well, this is my 23-year-old rookie first goal version at Bridgeview!” And it felt like the right thing to do.

Immediately after Carr’s goal the Revs pulled another goal back through Steve Ralston.

Calen Carr:

And then they scored. Steve Ralston was quick to remind me later not to celebrate too soon, because I think he went straight down the other end that day and scored to make it 3-2. I thought my goal was going to hold up, but like a lot of goals in my career, most notably MLS Cup, I like to just freeze the memory and pretend what happened next never happened! I think there are Houston Dynamo champions T-shirts that are in New Guinea or something now!

With almost the final kick of the game the Revs scored again to grab an unlikely share of the points.

Logan Pause:

I don’t have vivid memories of the game itself, to be honest. I know it was a game where we dropped a win so those sorts of things ring in your brain more for an athlete, when you give up goals to drop points. What I remember most about the day was that coming into the stadium at that time, it felt amazing. Just joy, anticipation, excitement to call a stadium your own, to represent your fans, your city, your teammates.

Nate Jaqua:

I have a pretty vivid memory of that last goal, unfortunately…

Gonzalo Segares:

The Revs game was a little frustrating because we were up 3-1 and then they came back. But we put it right by beating the Red Bulls 2-0 in front of a packed stadium in the next home game.

Calen Carr:

I am really excited and hopeful about the future. To have a fresh start and a new face in charge, it just feels refreshing right now. So, to be able to return within city limits, and with all those memories, I think it will be the perfect next step.

Nate Jaqua:

I thought it was great that we got our own stadium and it was what we needed at that point in time, but I also think it’s great we’re going downtown where fans have easier access. I feel like when I played the fans at Chicago were one of the best in the league, if not the best, and they brought real energy to the game. So, if we could keep growing that and get back to the winning ways that would be fantastic to see happen.

Andy Herron:

Obviously, the league has changed so much since then, which I am very proud to be part of. I’m excited to see what’s next. Anything that helps the team connect with Chicago, feel like part of Chicago, has got to be something good, right?

Logan Pause:

It’s a historic moment. My hope with the move is that the Club gets back to competing for championships on a consistent basis. I would add that I hope the Club, the fans, and the community are rewarded for their efforts, commitment and everything that they pour into what they do.

Members of the first ever Fire roster to play at Bridgeview, including Logan Pause and Gonzalo Segares, will be in attendance at the final home game of the season against Toronto on Sunday 29th September. The players will be honored on the field pre-game.

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