The rumors circulating last week were true. Major League Soccer summer camp is coming to Chicago.
At a press conference held within the hour, league commissioner Don Garber, along with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Fire owner Andrew Hauptman, former head coach Frank Klopas, and former player Brian McBride, announced that the 2017 MLS All-Star Game will be held at Soldier Field on August 2nd. The game will be presented by mega-retail chain Target, who were also unveiled as a new corporate partner.
Speaking to reporters just a little while ago, Garber said that the game is “not an exhibition” and that the upcoming All-Star Game was the latest chapter in a long tradition of soccer in Chicago.
Missing from today’s announcement was the All-Star Team’s guest opposition for the game. Major European clubs are currently in the process of making arrangements for their summer preseason friendlies, so an official confirmation of the visiting team is likely not too far away. It looks like the rumors that Barcelona would be that team are false. Manchester United and Real Madrid were other early favorites, but there’s enough lead time remaining that plenty of other big names could emerge.
Hot (Time) Take
We’re not going to revisit the politics of the decision to host the ASG at Soldier Field rather than Toyota Park— we already had our turn at speculation last week when the rumors started to surface. (Feel free to continue that discussion in the comments below, however.)
For now, we’re going to focus on the ASG itself and what a huge deal it is. Summer matches at Soldier Field are always one of the highpoints of the year for Chicago soccer fans, whether it’s an international friendly, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, or the International Champions Cup. But one of the awkward drawbacks of these marquee clashes at Soldier Field is that the Fire tend to be relegated to afterthoughts, left to set up information booths outside the stadium in a desperate bid to remind fans coming and going that, hey, we exist too.
The 2017 All-Star Game will help put the Fire front-and-center again. While it won’t be at Toyota Park, the Fire are still very much the ceremonial “hosts” of the All-Star Game. Veljko Paunović will serve as manager of the All-Star Team and lead the league’s best out against one of the biggest clubs in the world. Section 8 will have a golden opportunity to be the face of MLS fan culture. All of the city’s disparate soccer fan factions— Liga MX diehards in Pilsen and Little Village, old school Polish fans kicking balls around on the far West Side, yuppie Premier League fans from Lincoln Square— will have a chance to rediscover the Fire and MLS and maybe stick around this time.
This is, for want of a better metaphor, a second chance at a first impression for the Fire. If Andrew Hauptman and Nelson Rodriguez are serious about turning the club around, they’re not going to get a better chance than this.