Welcome to Fire20, a new weekly series that celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club by making deep dives into the team’s history. This week we look back at the 1999 season.
The 1998 season was one that Bob Bradley and the Chicago Fire could have only dreamed of when they were putting the team together. In their first-ever season as a club, the Fire managed to win the domestic double. The Men in Red defeated D.C. United 2-0 in the MLS Cup final and topped Columbus 2-1 to secure the U.S. Open Cup.
This success, though, did not translate into 1999. Not only did the Fire now have two titles to defend, they also found themselves in a third competition: the CONCACAF Champions Cup. This increase in the total number of games, proved to be difficult for Chicago to overcome.
The Fire did start the season well. They won their first three matches, all of which were away from home, scoring 10 goals and allowing just 2. Everything seemed to be going right for Chicago, but soon they began to struggle.
By no means was the 1999 season a disappointment for the Fire, they just simply were not as dominant as they had been in 1998. Chicago’s longest winning streak in the league in ‘99 was its first three matches. Compared to the ‘98 winning streak of 11 games, the Chicago faithful may have been a little underwhelmed.
Anyways, let us forge ahead into the rest of the 1999 season.
In 1999, Chicago joined D.C. and Los Angeles as the three teams representing MLS in the CONCACAF Champion’s Cup (Los Angeles lost in the qualifying playoff to Club Necaxa of Liga MX). It was the 35th edition of the international club football tournament, and proved to be just as difficult for MLS clubs then, as it is for them now.
At the time, the tournament consisted of eight teams divided into a simple bracket. Each round was a single leg, with the winner of the contest moving on.
In their first match, the Fire met Joe Public F.C. of Trinidad and Tobago in Las Vegas. They downed the Caribbean club 2-0 behind the goals of Dema Kovalenko and Ante Razov. However, in their next match against L.D. Alajuelense of Costa Rica, the Men in Red were knocked out of the competition 5-4 on penalty kicks.
There was some consolation, though, as the Fire went on to meet D.C. United in the third place match. After falling behind to the Black-and-Red, the Fire bagged late goals from Razov and Marsch to tie the game 2-2. And in typical CONCACAF style, the match simply ended as that. A tie. With both teams laying claim to third place.
Domestically, the Fire were equally average. They finished third in the Western Conference of MLS, tallying just 48 points—eight less than their second place finish a season earlier, and posted a record of 18 wins and 14 losses.
In the first round of the playoffs, they lost their series (yes, series, MLS used to do things a little differently back in the day) two-games to one to the Dallas Burn, and found themselves in unfamiliar waters: enjoying an early vacation.
Their performance in the U.S. open cup was, well, mediocre as well. The Fire lost to eventual champions Rochester Raging Rhinos, 1-0 in their first game of the competition, and did not even have a chance to defend their title.
Overall, the season was rough for the Fire. They walked away with nothing else for the trophy cabinet, and became acquainted with the demanding travel schedule of MLS and extra competitions.
Some good did come from 1999, though. Despite a lack of silverware, the Fire did have a decent season. They made the playoffs for the second time in their first two seasons, something that most expansion teams would dream of, and ‘99 also proved to be the year another Fire star was born.
That star was Ante Razov.
Razov is an MLS original. He played in each of the league’s first 15 seasons, and joined the Fire after playing with Los Angeles for two seasons. In his seven seasons in Chicago, Razov bagged 76 goals. An impressive feat.
His forward play, mixed with the defensive stability provided by the aforementioned Chris Armas, was a major factor in the Fire’s MLS Cup triumph, three of their Open Cup winning seasons and their 2003 Supporters Shield season.
Razov offered a unique skill-set for an MLS striker. He was effective in the air and could beat you on the dribble, and being what some would call a “complete” striker allowed him to bag a career total of 114 regular-season goals. That’s second on the all-time goal scoring list.
Razov also enjoyed time playing with the U.S. Men’s National Team. He earned 25 caps and scored six goals in his time wearing the red, white and blue, and was named as an alternate for the 2002 World Cup in Korean/Japan.
The American forward enjoyed an illustrious career in MLS and was a true servant to the Chicago Fire.
Overall, 1999 wasn’t too shabby. It certainly didn’t have the same fireworks that 1998 did for Chicago, but it couldn’t have left Fire fans with more than a slight headache and occasional nausea.
1999 showed Bob Bradley and the rest of the Fire staff the weaknesses that the team had on the pitch, and gave the organization a better understanding of what it meant to fight a three-front war. Both were valuable lessons if the Fire wanted to remain relevant in the league.
One can think of the ‘99 season as a springboard of things to come. The lessons learned in the final year of the millennia proved important for the Fire in 2000, as they went on to win another U.S. Open Cup, and fell just short to Kansas City in MLS Cup, losing 1-0.
So, as it seems now, the Fire were indeed ready to party like it was 1999. However, they skipped the party, and were still left with a moderately bad hangover.