This isn’t what team had in mind for its big re­turn — an empty Sol­dier Field

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - Twit­ter: @Bri­anSan­dalow BRIAN SANDALOW

Fire coach Raphael Wicky had three up­dates Mon­day.

“First, the player who was con­firmed pos­i­tive on Fri­day is self-iso­lat­ing,’’ Wicky said. ‘‘He con­tin­ues to be asymp­to­matic and is in good spir­its. Sec­ond, all other play­ers and staff have con­tin­ued to test neg­a­tive, thank­fully, and are all asymp­to­matic. And third, our club fol­lowed all the health, safety and med­i­cal pro­to­cols put in place by Ma­jor League Soc­cer. We have done so the en­tire time since March. We did it in Or­lando in the bub­ble, and we con­tinue to do it now.”

That Wicky had to make that state­ment is a part of life th­ese days, es­pe­cially af­ter the Fire’s an­nounce­ment late Fri­day night. It’s an­other sign that COVID-19 will loom over every­thing Tues­day night, when the team makes its Sol­dier Field re­turn against FC Cincin­nati.

The Fire were sup­posed to play at the lake­front March 21 against At­lanta United, but that game was post­poned be­cause of the pan­demic. In­stead, the Fire have had to wait five months for their Sol­dier Field bow, and there will be no fans in the stands be­cause of safety rea­sons.

That’s not quite how the Fire en­vi­sioned their re­turn, but the pan­demic has al­tered all their plans.

On the field, the Fire (1-4-1, four points) are still try­ing to fig­ure out how the pieces fit. Wicky con­ceded the cir­cum­stances have been chal­leng­ing for the club, which prac­ti­cally re­built its ros­ter af­ter last year.

But at the same time, he knows ev­ery team is bat­tling un­prece­dented cir­cum­stances.

“It’s ob­vi­ously chal­leng­ing and then all the other things where you’re not re­ally get­ting a rhythm,” Wicky said from Sol­dier Field, where the Fire prac­ticed Mon­day. “But I can’t lose too much en­ergy on that. I can’t con­trol that, so that’s just how it is this year. That doesn’t ex­cuse any­thing, but it’s a fact. It’s not easy, but we work hard. We try to do the best, and we do the best [we can], and that’s all we can con­trol.”

Off the field, the Fire chose not to have fans for their first three home games. Whether they try to open their doors later this year re­mains to be seen, but that choice will come down to health and safety, the sit­u­a­tion in and around Chicago and how the Fire feel about their pre­pared­ness to host sup­port­ers.

“We had this vi­sion, and we were on track for this fan­tas­tic cel­e­bra­tion of our sport and our city and our com­mu­nity on March 21,” Fire pres­i­dent Nel­son Ro­driguez said. “We want, if we can, to still have that mo­ment. That’s not to say we won’t play with fans if we’re lim­ited in at­ten­dance, but it is to say if in Phase 2 we go back and in­vite fans in, we might just scale back what we do be­cause we don’t want to lose that mo­ment that we know was go­ing to hap­pen and we know will hap­pen.”


Fire play­ers prac­tice Mon­day at Sol­dier Field. The team’s home opener is Tues­day night against FC Cincin­nati.

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