It’s difficult to remember a time when the rivalry between the LA Galaxy and the Chicago Fire wasn’t lopsided. The Galaxy’s stumbles this season notwithstanding, they’ve come closer to realizing Alexi Lalas’ oft-mocked goal of ‘superclub status’ than they had any business doing. Meanwhile, the Fire have stagnated commercially and competitively, staggering downward steadily since the ‘Aughts until they’d gathered consecutive Wooden Spoons.
But it wasn’t always so. In the league’s formative years, the rivalry between the co-owned clubs in Los Angeles and Chicago was one of MLS’ first driven both by on-field outcomes and off-field factors.
1997 - The Chicago Fire are announced as the first MLS expansion club; they share ownership with the LA Galaxy. At no point does either side refer to the other as ‘brothers’ or ‘cousins’ or any other term of affection.
1998 - In their first season in the league, the Fire split four games with the Galaxy, finishing just behind the Hollywood club in the standings. In the playoff semifinals, the Men in Red defeated the Galaxy at Soldier Field in front of 33,000 people, winning in a shootout thanks to an amazing performance by Zach Thornton. The Fire went on to win MLS Cup and the US Open Cup, with MLS Cup held at the Rose Bowl in LA.
1999 - The Fire won the opening matchup of the season, 1-0, before losing the next three to LA. Chicago loses to Dallas 2-1 in the old three-game playoff format, while the Galaxy crush Colorado and then that same Dallas side en route to MLS Cup. They lose to DC United, and we all got to snicker at them.
2000 - With the advent of the (short-lived) three-conference system, Chicago moves to the Central Conference, and will never again (to date) be in the same regular-season table as the Gals. The Fire, with former Ballon d’Or winner Hristo Stoichkov added to the already-successful core, tied Kansas City for the best record in the league. The Fire got four points from two games against LA. Then the Galaxy failed to beat KC in the playoff semifinals, setting the stage for motherf--king Tony Meola to ascend to godhood, make 10 saves and deny our best-ever team MLS Cup. Weak, LA. You could’ve lost to us in the finals like men, or something.
2001 - The clubs split road wins, with LA snaking a 4-3 victory at Soldier Field and the Fire swaggering to a 3-1 win in the Rose Bowl. (Again.) But the Rose Bowl dominance was about to be an obsolete skill, as the Galaxy opened the then-Home Depot Center just prior to hosting Chicago in the second game of the playoff semifinals, which they won, 1-0. They also won in Soldier Field again in the third game of the series, countering a Fire side that needed a win to move on to death en route to a 2-1 win.
To review: The Fire have, at this point, existed for four years; have won a league cup and two US Open Cups; have put up the leading point total in the league the last two years running - and have just seen another club owned by the same ownership open (what, to 2001 eyes, was) an American soccer palace to play in, while they continued to cling like a barnacle onto the decaying hulk of Soldier Field, charged an arm & a leg to play on days when zero revenue was expected, gouged to an inch of our lives to support the Men in Red … and the Galaxy now play in paradise. There’s literally soccer fields to the horizon.
And then they beat us on that beautiful carpet, with all the lights on. Clean-sheeted us. And then won again in our crumbling lakeside home. Yeah, we f--king hate these guys.
2002 - Wait, what was I saying about dear, beloved Soldier Field? Holy s--t, it can get a lot worse. The Fire went ON TOUR 4 LYFE in Naperville. Those dicks from LA beat us all three times we played, included twice at our old Rose Bowl stomping-grounds. Then they went on to win MLS Cup. Dicks.
2003 - This is the Chicago Fire of Bocanegra and Beasley, Armas and Marsch … this is a dominant Fire team once again. We win both games against LA, and storm through the playoffs. The Galaxy, meanwhile, have a very creditable season ended in utter heartbreak, as a San Jose side led by Landon Donovan and Dwayne DeRosario come from four goals down to win, 5-4. Again, LA fails to do us a solid, and the Fire are swept aside, 4-2, in MLS Cup. The Men in Red do win the Open Cup and Supporters Shield, but damn, LA, c’mon now.