Chicago Fire fans know the story, by now. At least, they know most of it.
On April 4, 1998 local star Frank Klopas scores a brace for his hometown’s new MLS team in the inaugural home match at Soldier Field. The Fire would go on to beat the Tampa Bay Mutany 2-0 that day, on the way to winning the MLS Cup - U.S. Open Cup double.
But, Klopas had a secret about that game he’s kept quiet, until today.
“The shoes that I played with in that game were not even my shoes,” Klopas admitted to Hot Time in Old Town.
Klopas said he woke up that morning with a premonition that he’d have a big game.
“I was imagining what that night was going to be, going to Soldier Field, what the atmosphere was going to be,” Klopas remembered. “I was gonna score. I just had that feeling.”
When Klopas got to the stadium, some of the guys had gathered in the locker room for a game of soccer tennis. Ante Razov was there, and so was another team fixture that season—a 10-year-old boy named Michael Bradley, the son of Fire head coach Bob Bradley.
That’s when something caught Frank’s eye.
“I saw the shoes that Ante was wearing, and I said ‘Ante, those shoes look great, man,’ and he goes, ‘Frank, try ‘em on!’ And the minute I put them on, it was like they fit like a glove! I said, ‘Ante, I gotta play with the shoes,’ and he said ‘Frank, play with the shoes! You can have em!”
So Klopas took Razov’s shoes.
Mind you, this was before the days where guys had massive amounts of shoes in their locker. Razov only had a couple pairs—and he gave one to Klopas. A player giving up a pair of shoes to a teammate wasn’t just strange—it never happened.
“Dude, we never changed anything. You find a good pair of shoes, you played well in them, you’d never take ‘em off. You never want to lose those shoes,” Klopas said.
Making things even stranger, Klopas had an adidas deal, and Razov’s shoes were Nike.
“I kind of risked a situation where I could have gotten fined, but you know what? I just said these shoes feel too good on my feet right now, I couldn’t take them off,” he said.
Razov is the Fire’s all-time leading scorer, but that 1998 team was so loaded, Bradley didn’t even put him in the game that day. It’s probably a good thing, because Klopas wasn’t giving up the shoes.
“I put ‘em on, and some of his goal scoring touch kind of wore off on me that night. And I never gave those shoes back to Ante,” Klopas said.
He’s not kidding. We found a photo of Klopas hugging goalkeeper Zach Thornton from the 1998 MLS Cup Final match against DC United, and there he was, wearing the black Nikes he snagged from Razov.
“I’m telling you, man. You wear those shoes until you can’t wear them anymore. It’s not like nowadays where guys have 50 pairs of shoes,” he said. “I basically wore ‘em until they were worn out. I couldn’t wear ‘em anymore.”
Klopas had forgotten about the shoe swap until this week, when he and new play-by-play announcer Tyler Terens recorded commentary of the 1998 home opener for a special video you can watch here.
“It never really crossed my mind until doing that game with Tyler. I said holy cow, how could I forget about that?”
Klopas doesn’t have the shoes anymore. He said he’s not sure what he did with them, but he said his wife probably made him throw them out at some point. Without them, though, maybe Klopas doesn’t score a brace in that game, and maybe the Fire don’t go on to win the double.
“I’m forever thankful to Ante, because his goal scoring touch wore off on me that night.”