With the All-Star game fast approaching, I felt that it was only appropriate to breakdown the last time an MLS side played at Soldier Field: July 23, 2011 against Manchester United. It also happens to be a personal favorite memory of mine, as it was the first time I ever saw the Fire play in person.
The match in Chicago was the English footballing giant’s third stop on their United States tour, part of the “blockbuster” event that was the Herbalife World Football Challenge. The stadium was packed, and you’d think most of the fans would be cheering for United. But on balance, the Fire had the strongest and loudest support.
It was a dream start for the Fire. (Not that I would have known at the time, we were stuck in traffic outside the stadium for the entirety of the first half). In just the 13th minute of the match, Chicago went 1-0 up when Cory Gibbs headed home a long free kick into the box from Marco Pappa.
Manchester United were dazed after the goal, and the Fire, somewhat miraculously, were in the driver’s seat for next 50 minutes. Chances from Costan Rican forward Cristian Nazarit in the 32nd minute and Patrick Nyarko in the 45th minute should have put this game to bed in the first half. Unfortunately, this is the Chicago Fire we’re talking about.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot, Baggio Husidic whiffed on a cross when he was standing in front of a wide open net in the 52nd minute. The crowd was less than pleased with him.
Now’s when everything got ugly.
In the 66th minute, Wayne Rooney was played through by a ball over the top from Phil Jones, and the then-25-year-old Englishman calmly chipped veteran goalkeeper Jon Conway. It was a world class finish from a world class version of Rooney. (Oh how the mighty have fallen.)
Less than ten minutes later Rafael (I repeat: oh how the mighty have fallen) snuck a goal past Conway at the near post after he made a darting run along the end line. It was a pitiful attempt at a save.
Finally, in the 82nd minute, the most exciting part of the match to 14-year-old me occurred. Portuguese winger Nani made a darting run into the box, and after a fortunate bounce, chipped Conway brilliantly. It was an amazing bit of skill from the Manchester United player, and it was the moment that made everyone think Nani was going to be the real deal.
But the goal wasn’t what I was talking about. Nani’s round-off back flip in celebration of his goal blew pre-driver’s license Jack’s mind. And it also set the stadium into a frenzy. At this point, the crowd was simply rooting for some beautiful soccer, seeing as how the game was well out of hand. Manchester United, and I say this very begrudgingly as an Arsenal supporter, did not disappoint.
When the All-Star Game comes around next week, we as Chicago soccer fans can only hope for more fireworks— and maybe even an MLS victory.