Chicago Fire

Blew the curve for all future expansion teams, winning the MLS Cup/U.S. Open Cup double in Year 1 (1998). Still a formidable Open Cup team most years but not an MLS contender recently. Starting new era under Frank Klopas.

Trophies: 1998 MLS Cup/U.S. Open Cup, 2000 U.S. Open Cup, 2003 Supporters’ Shield/U.S. Open Cup, 2006 U.S. Open Cup

Fan personality: Always colorful and ready to speak up. Founding GM Peter Wilt encouraged supporters’ culture, and the team dealt with a major backlash when he was let go. The team has had some lean years since then, but the supporters still bring the passion.


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Stadium situation: Comfortable. Toyota Park isn’t exactly downtown, but after playing second fiddle in Soldier Field and spending a couple of years out at Naperville’s North Central College, people can’t really complain.

History

Tough to top the Fire’s start. With a bunch of future prominent coaches on hand (head coach Bob Bradley went on to the U.S. national team, and you’ll see Peter Nowak, Tom Soehn, Jesse Marsch and current Fire coach Frank Klopas on the sideline or the front office in MLS), Chicago surprised two-time champion D.C. United in the MLS Cup final and added the Open Cup title in its debut season of 1998. The team extended its Eastern European theme by bringing in temperamental Bulgarian superstar Hristo Stoitchkov, a breakout player in the 1994 World Cup and a longtime Barcelona foward. The Fire was favored in the 2000 MLS Cup final, but Tony Meola slammed the door shut for Kansas City and the team settled for the Open Cup.

When Soldier Field underwent renovation, the team also set up camp in Naperville, with fans enjoying the intimate venue despite a few flaws in location and turf. They celebrated another double – Supporters’ Shield and Open Cup — in 2003.

The Fire nailed down a deal for its own stadium, but there was discontent after owners AEG dismissed Wilt. The Toyota Park era opened with yet another Open Cup win, but the team hasn’t won a trophy since. That’s not to say it hasn’t been an exciting ride — Chicago landed huge signings in Mexican Cuauhtemoc Blanco and prodigal son Brian McBride, but a heartbreaking PK loss (at home) in the 2009 MLS semifinal to Real Salt Lake sank the team’s spirits and ended the coaching tenure of longtime assistant Denis Hamlett. That continued the spin of a revolving door that saw the acrimonious departure of Juan Carlos Osorio after a brief, promising stay.

Like many MLS teams, Chicago was owned and then sold by AEG. Relatively new owner Andrew Hauptmann drew some skepticism in the blogosphere, but the team is neither languishing nor forgetting its history. The team has added C.J. Brown, a “Fire original” who played a staggering 372 games for the team across all competitions, to the team’s “Ring of Fire,” joining Nowak, Klopas, Wilt, Bradley, Czech defensive anchor Lubos Kubik and longtime defensive midfielder Chris Armas.

The Fire finished 2011 on … well, fire. Klopas played a big role in building this team as technical director and adapted quickly to the sideline. Captain Logan Pause provides some continuity and a steady presence, while young goalkeeper Sean Johnson has progressed from unheralded draft pick to the U.S. national pool. Defender Austin Berry won MLS Rookie of the Year in 2012 as the Fire returned to the playoffs and brought some optimism into 2013.

2013 previews: MLSSoccer.com, ESPN, Soccer America, SB Nation

 

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