In the last two seasons back at Soldier Field, the Chicago Fire have gotten used to playing on choppy grass surfaces in the fall. But Saturday’s college football game between Wisconsin and Notre Dame left the pitch in horrible shape, so much so that neither the Fire nor Nashville SC could play one or two touch soccer—with even the simplest passes bouncing and skipping at odd angles during the 0-0 draw. After most Bears games, pockmarks are usually worst between the hashmarks, but on Sunday they were all over the field, with buckets of green paint used to cover up the gridiron markings and logos.
We could joke it was worse than a park district field, but then again, it is a park district field. Normally Fire coach Raphael Wicky won’t make a big deal about field conditions, but Sunday was different.
“Today was rough,” Wicky said. “Today was difficult. I think you could see that for both teams that it was very, very difficult to play fast, to play combination football. That’s just the reality. I am not going to sit here and lie. Today was very difficult for both teams to play a good, attractive, offensive-minded football.”
Gaga Shines Again
Seventeen year old goalkeeping wunderkind Gabriel Slonina got his third straight start in goal, and came away with a clean sheet. The lack of attacking soccer meant he was only forced to make four saves on the day, but his positioning and awareness were spot on.
“I think the experience has been amazing and I’m so grateful to be playing and getting there, because experience on the field is so important in a young player’s development,” Slonina said. “And I think you can train as much as you want, but if you don’t have that game, realistic-type decision-making and everything, you aren’t improving as much as when you’re just training. But I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it takes a lot to be on the field as a starter. Mentally, it’s a big impact and physically. I think preparing for the game is a huge aspect of performing well.”
Fede’s Settling In
Since joining the team earlier this month, Federico Navarro has lived up to his billing. He’s an aggressive, relentless, ball-winning No. 6 who maybe won’t make a big, line breaking pass, but can be counted on to gobble up every ball that comes his way. His performance Sunday against Nashville earned him Man of the Match honors from the club.
“I think I’m still adapting, I think I’m going quickly, but I’m doing everything I can so that I can adapt quickly and be better for this team,” Navarro said. “Really, this team has been great. They have been really helpful to any player who comes to be able to adapt and adjust. What I found here was a very quick game; maybe in Argentina, the game isn’t as quick, it’s a little bit more settled, but here it’s very quick, it’s very physical and it’s what I expected. So, I’m just doing whatever I can to be able to adapt quickly so that I can keep growing and keep adding to the team.”
Slonina and Navarro were two of six starters for Chicago aged 23 or under on the day.
Honoring the Sting
The Fire honored members of the 1981 Soccer Bowl winning Chicago Sting on Sunday, with an appearance on the field by many of the former players at halftime. Wicky even sported a Sting shirt for the match—a nice touch from both the coach and the club.
“Well it’s obviously supporting the history, supporting the history of a great team who a lot of years ago, 40 years ago today, achieved something big and that’s great,” Wicky said. “I saw as well a lot of these players from that time were here and came and still are connected to Chicago and that’s obviously great.”