Welcome to Fire20, our weekly series celebrating 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 last time the Sounders darkened our doorsteps.
With Chicago welcoming Seattle to Toyota Park on Saturday, it seemed fitting that this week’s Fire20 touch on one of my personal favorite memories as a Fire fan.
The day is July 11, 2015. The setting is Bridgeview, Illinois. I stepped out of the backseat of my father’s Nissan Maxima onto the unpaved parking lot surrounding Toyota Park, and sensed the excitement in the air.
The Fire were set to face the Sounders—two teams that were having extraordinarily different seasons. The Men in Red entered the night with a record of 4-9-3 on just 15 points, and the Rave Green at 10-7-2 on 32 points. Basically, Seattle was looking like the team that was leading the Western Conference, and Chicago was bad. Very bad. (That’s becoming a theme as of late for these pieces.)
But something about the atmosphere just told me that night was going to be different. As we entered the stadium, the Harlem End was in full voice, welcoming the Fire onto the pitch. Mike Magee was leading the line and Brazilian defender Adailton was paired with Eric Gehrig at center back.
The night was perfect: cool but not cold, Toyota Park was packed and the majority of highlighter green in the stadium was concentrated in the away section. The ground was nearly sold out, and people were there to root for the Fire.
And, well, the game didn’t disappoint.
It was an open-ended affair, with Mike Magee just putting a little too much on a header that would have hung Sounders keeper Troy Perkins out to dry, and Chad Barrett struck a clean volley in the 37th minute that was caught by Sean Johnson.
Seattle's best chance of the game came in the 44th minute when Cristian Roldan pinged the crossbar with this effort:
But the Fire held on and got into the tunnel at 0-0.
When they returned for the second 45, Frank Yallop’s men— oh Yallop, remember him? I try to forget— had clearly heard a great motivational speech at halftime. The Fire came out and really pushed the issue.
Perkins was forced into a number of saves to keep the game at 0-0, most notably a diving effort on a Guly Do Prado header in the 78th minute.
As the clock rolled over into stoppage time, it wasn’t entirely clear how this was going to end. Either team could’ve taken it.
And then this happened:
Mikey Stephens made a charging run from the Fire’s 18-yard-box well into Seattle’s final third, carrying the ball with him all the way. He then neatly slotted a ball to Jason Johnson down the right hand wing, and JJ did the rest.
The Jamaican cut the ball into the box, opened it up onto his left foot and then blasted the ball into the far post, leaving Perkins helpless.
(This goal can also be describe as something like this, because this is what it looked like in person: Johnson flew down the right wing on his hoverboard, floated past several different green monsters and exploded Toyota Park with one touch of the ball.)
When the ball hit the net, the stadium erupted. Not a single soul had left the ground early that night, and the Chicago faithful were rewarded for their patience.
This goal was jaw-dropping, and it was even more jaw-dropping in person.
I was sitting about here:
This is one of my favorite games because of how much it meant to me, personally. It was the middle of July, the Fire were bad and they had just beaten the best team in the Western Conference. After this game, there was a sense that the Fire could maybe turn their season around.
Of course they didn’t, but at least for a brief amount of time everyone was happy.
And going into this weekend, things couldn’t be more different. The Fire are now a competitive side, and the Sounders have only one win in their first five road games. Let’s just hope that someone on Chicago’s current roster can fill Jason Johnson’s heroic(?) shoes.