FIRE FI­NALLY GET TO TAKE THE FIELD — FANS DON’T

opener at sol­dier field still on for tues­day de­spite pos­i­tive test for first-team player

Chicago Sun-Times - - FIRE BEAT - BY BRIAN SANDALOW @bri­ansan­dalow

Slightly more than five months af­ter it was sup­posed to hap­pen, the Fire are sched­uled to play a home game at Sol­dier Field. And like so much else in 2020, this event will have an­other COVID-19 sub­plot.

The Fire an­nounced Fri­day night that a first-team player tested pos­i­tive for the virus. Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment, all other play­ers and club mem­bers have re­turned con­sec­u­tive neg­a­tive tests. The Fire’s lake­front de­but against FC Cincin­nati on Tues­day night is still on.

Pre­vi­ously, the team had no pos­i­tive tests. Ac­cord­ing to the Fire, the player is asymp­to­matic and self-iso­lated un­der a “strict and de­tailed” pro­to­col. The un­named player did not travel with the team for the game Thurs­day at Colum­bus, and he’ll stay in isolation un­til be­ing cleared. The Fire’s med­i­cal staff is mon­i­tor­ing the player, who is be­ing tested daily.

As­sum­ing Tues­day’s game is played, the match will have this news at­tached and feel much dif­fer­ent than the orig­i­nally sched­uled opener March 21 against At­lanta United.

In­stead of be­ing on track for a sell­out crowd, the Fire won’t be wel­com­ing fans into the sta­dium for at least the next two games there. Dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view with the Sun-Times well be­fore Fri­day’s an­nounce­ment, team pres­i­dent Nel­son Ro­driguez ex­panded on why the Fire didn’t pur­sue open­ing their doors to sup­port­ers for the first phase of the restarted sea­son.

Health and safety were prom­i­nent con­cerns, ap­ply­ing not just to fans but also the par­tic­i­pants and work­ers re­quired to hold an event. While stress­ing that teams in other mar­kets may have dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances that might lead to other de­ci­sions, the Fire chose to sup­port lo­cal lead­er­ship and wanted to be sen­si­tive to a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases.

The Fire also spoke to some fans and sup­port­ers about their de­sire to at­tend games and ap­plied that in­put to­ward the de­ci­sion. There was also a prac­ti­cal con­cern, con­sid­er­ing the cur­rent Fire brass hasn’t staged a match at Sol­dier Field.

“We haven’t even had a rep,” Ro­driguez said. “To have a rep with these cir­cum­stances, it felt like it might be a good idea for us to try to walk our­selves through some games at Sol­dier Field be­fore invit­ing in more peo­ple.”

Un­for­tu­nately, the Fire are get­ting “reps” at some­thing else: con­tain­ing COVID-19. The Fire are begin­ning daily test­ing of the first team and soc­cer staff, and have im­ple­mented con­tact trac­ing.

Dur­ing a me­dia avail­abil­ity Tues­day, Fire coach Raphael Wicky was asked about the pre­cau­tions play­ers are tak­ing dur­ing the pan­demic.

“I think the play­ers know that they are re­spon­si­ble for their own and for oth­ers and they want to live a nor­mal life but they also know they are ath­letes and they want to play, so cer­tain things, they have to fol­low the rules,” Wicky said. “They have to avoid go­ing into big crowds. They have to have so­cial dis­tanc­ing and the masks and like I say, so far, we never had a pos­i­tive test, so I think the team is do­ing well. But we have to keep do­ing that. We have to fol­low all the rules and be re­spect­ful of all that.”

NOTE: The Fire ac­quired 19-year-old de­fender Car­los Teran via trans­fer from Colom­bian first-di­vi­sion club En­vi­gado FC. He’s un­der con­tract through 2024 with a club op­tion for 2025. The team also put goal­keeper Ken­neth Kron­holm and mid­fielder Luka Sto­janovic on the sea­son-end­ing in­jury list. ✶

BRIAN SANDALOW/SUN-TIMES

The Fire will face FC Cincin­nati on Tues­day at Sol­dier Field.

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