The Chicago Fire are in a rut right now. Five straight losses - with two of them coming from a floundering Toronto FC team - and now at a 3.8% chance of making the playoffs, the team has seen better days. But hey, at least there is still the possibility of winning the US Open Cup right? Right?
But around the same time last year, the Fire were on top of the world. Undefeated at home and at the top of the table. Chicago had a men’s soccer team to be proud of, and what better way to showcase the city’s passion for the sport than 22nd installment of the MLS All-Stars held in Soldier Field.
Led by Veljko Paunovic, the MLS All-Stars faced European giants Real Madrid on a rainy Wednesday night. The Fire was well represented in the squad, with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kapplehof and Dax McCarty in the 24-man lineup.
Schweinsteiger led out the squad as captain for the first-half of the match with Kapplehof in the back. Things were even and down right boring in the first 30 minutes of the match. Chances were recreated, but squandered. Then in the 32nd minute, Real Madrid had a chance to be in the lead but Tim Howard blocked the shot. The MLS All-Stars then proceeded with a counter-attack led by Kaka. He fed it to David Villa but his shot was blocked by Keylor Navas.
In the second-half of the game changes were made to both teams and now Dax was wearing the armband while Niko was now in charge of the front. Both Real Madrid and MLS All-Stars looked vibrant from the get go. Then in the 58th minute, Zinedine Zidane’s side was in the lead with a beautiful goal from Borja Mayoral.
Despite the rain, the crowd at Soldier Field were lively. There were pockets of “Fire Fire Fire” chants throughout the whole stadium and when Niko almost equalized in the 69th minute, chants of “Niko” were shouted. Sadly and very disappointedly, there were homophobic chants throughout the game, although it seemed to die down towards the end of the match.
As the minutes dragged on Real Madrid were dominating. Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale were slicing through the MLS All-Stars defense. But towards the dying minutes of the game, Dax almost equalized but Dom Dwyer recovered the ball and scored. Pockets of fans in the stadium started chanting “USA USA” while Sporting Kansas City fans were gloating under the rain.
The game headed towards penalty kicks, and while this was only a friendly, it still brought out a feeling of nervousness from the spectators. Dwyer and Giovani dos Santos missed their penalties and Marcelo converted his which won Real Madrid the match.
Paunovic as serious as always later said, “blame me,” for choosing the order of the penalty takers while Zidane stressed the friendly nature in this match. “People enjoyed it, which is the more important thing.”
As the rain clouds disappeared, so did the dominance of the Fire. After the MLS All-Stars match, the Fire weren’t the same team that stormed the league in the beginning of the year.
But for one rainy night, Chicago was at the center stage of the sport with the Fire leading the way.