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The Cheap Seats: Home Sweet Home

It’s good to be back home

It has been 313 days since I’ve last attended a Chicago Fire game in person. There are a number of reasons of why I didn’t step foot in SeatGeek Stadium during that time, but it was mainly because I needed to focus on my last semester at Columbia College Chicago and I was staunchly against supporting the front office due to their treatment of Sector Latino.

But as seasons change, so does the club. Since then, the front office has settled their differences with supporters and the team itself was improving with some of the recent signings. It seemed like the club was changing for the better, and so was my outlook. I needed to see this change in person, so I decided to was finally time to come back home. I usually try to attend the home opener, but I was out of the country at that time. For better or worse, the Fire has two more scheduled home games for the month of March so I didn’t have to wait long.

It was gameday against the Seattle Sounders and it was a beautiful morning. The color of the sky was a deep blue and the air felt refreshing. I decided to take my usual routing down to the stadium, which was the Blue to the Orange Line then taking the Pace bus which in hindsight was a huge mistake. It was the day when Chicago was having their festivities for St. Patrick’s day which usually means a bunch of bros getting wasted by 10 a.m. and that was exactly the case.

On the train ride to the city, I tried to catch up on some soccer news, but my surroundings prevented me from doing so. The train cart I was in reeked of alcohol and was nosier than O’Hare. I decided to try to drown that out by just listening to music and to stare out the window.

During my zen-like state, I started to think about SeatGeek Stadium. While others may have memories of seeing the Fire play in Soldier Field or even Naperville, SeatGeek is where mine lie. That stadium will forever house those moments, both the good and the bad.

Before I knew it, the train arrived in the Clark/Lake station where I transferred over to the Orange Line. Thankfully this line wasn’t as rowdy as the other and I was able to relax for a bit. Once I arrived at Midway, I quickly made my way to the Pace Bus.

After an uneventful bus ride, I was finally at my old stomping grounds. Apart from the new banners and the new corporate sponsorship signage, it looked like the same stadium I knew and loved. I waltzed over to will call and picked up my ticket for the Harlem End. Whenever possible, I always try to get a seat in that area. While I’m not actively involved with any supporters group, I’ve always admired them for their work and contribution to both the club and community. For those reasons, I always want to be around them.

As the hype video ended and the starting lineup was announced, I started to get excited. Despite knowing the Fire is bound to make a fool out of themselves against a high-flying Sounders squad, I couldn’t wait to finally watch them in person.

The Fire had a strong first five minutes, but as the old story goes, the Fire are going to Fire. Jordan Morris, who I totally forgot about, provided a nice assist for Victor Rodriguez and the Sounders were up 1-0 within the first 10 minutes. Just a few minutes later, Morris doubled their lead. “Ah, this is the Fire I know, good to see them back,” I told myself.

Despite this expected collapse, I was happy to be back in the stadium. I missed seeing the lads play in person, and the various chants/songs belting out from the fellow fans in the area. I especially missed heckling the referees whenever they would make a questionable or even a correct call. Everything I missed about attending Fire games was coming back, and it was a good feel. The only thing missing at that moment was some RC Cola and some ice cream nachos which I sadly didn’t get during the game.

The Sounders continued to be a dominant force while the Fire crumbled until the 35th minute when Raheem Edwards was subbed in. Despite not being fully fit, Edwards brought a spark out to the team. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite players on the squad. As the game lingered on, there were times when I morphed into into an angry IRL Twitter user. “Pauno, what are you doing?!” I yelled after I saw Przemysław Frankowski being played as a rightback. At other points during the game, I did multiple hand gestures signaling where the players should position themselves. I guess that’s what happens to you after playing countless hours of Football Manager.

During the second half, the Fire finally put up a fight, which pleased me. If this was the Fire squad of yesteryear, they would of have just continued to falter. CJ Sapong crossed in a ball to Edwards which he headed in beautifully. I went berserk. I yelled while repeatedly tapped the badge on my jersey like I was the one who actually scored. It was such a wonderful feel to once again cheer in the stadium. That moment made me realize how much I truly missed watching them live. During my self-imposed exile from the stadium, I started feel a distance growing between the team and myself. Despite watching the team through streaming services, it just wasn’t the same compared to watching them in-person.

The Fire continued to push forward for another goal and got their wish via Fabian Herbers who was subbed in for Nemanja Nikolic. If the rumors are true about Niko potentially leaving, I would be devastated if this game was the last time I saw him. One of my favorite memories of Niko is seeing him score a hat-trick against the Philadelphia Union during that magical 2017 season.

In the end, the team showed they cared, but that wasn’t enough. The Sounders attack and Stefan Frei was just simply too much for the Fire to handle.

The game panned out as I thought it would but I wasn’t completely disappointed. Still with this much attacking caliber, one would think the Fire would at least pull some strings together. But as Edwards gave the Harlem End a nod, all of those thoughts didn’t matter at that moment.

On the train ride back home, I was talking to a Waukegan native who was a Sounders fan. We had a good conversation about the state of our respective clubs until he brought up the topic of PRO/REL. Needless to say, I think I would rather deal with drunk dudebros at that point. I later (sadly) got my wish and experienced them once more when I switched over to the Blue Line.

On the last leg of my commute I watched highlights of the game and realized how much of a hot mess the Fire actually was. Regardless, it was just good to be back home.