Get off to hot start at home with­out fans

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

At 5:53 p.m. Tues­day night, the Fire emerged from the north­east tun­nel and hit the play­ing sur­face at Sol­dier Field. The mo­ment, an­tic­i­pated by the club af­ter ef­fec­tively buy­ing its way into an amended lease with the Vil­lage of Bridgeview, was met with blar­ing mu­sic that sounded like a reg­u­lar match.

But there were over 60,000 empty blue seats to greet the Fire, who beat FC Cincin­nati 3-0. The au­then­tic cheer­ing that would’ve met the team be­gin­ning their pregame warmups for their planned March 21 opener was ab­sent, and the only vis­i­ble signs of sup­port­ers were large fan-cre­ated ban­ners be­hind the south goal and a few so­cial-me­dia mes­sages that were dis­played on the video boards at Sol­dier Field.

Forty min­utes af­ter warmups, the Fire re­turned to the field. Un­like typ­i­cal cir­cum­stances when the teams walk out side-by-side, the Fire walked out first. They were fol­lowed by the ref­er­ees and then FC Cincin­nati. Ev­ery­body was wear­ing masks.

In­deed, COVID-19 was hard to for­get. It’s why the opener was post­poned, why it was resched­uled for Tues­day, and why Sol­dier Field’s doors were closed to fans. There were some doubts the match would be played af­ter an un­named Fire player tested pos­i­tive Fri­day.

The match went on, but the vibe the Fire (2-4-1, 7 points) crave for their home games will have to wait.

“Ob­vi­ously, we wish that to­day there would have been 50-60,000 peo­ple here and the team would have been able to cel­e­brate [this vic­tory] in a nor­mal world,” coach Raphael Wicky said. “I only can imag­ine how it must be to win games here, score goals in a full sta­dium.

“The ex­pe­ri­ence over­all was great. It’s a great start for us, com­ing back to Sol­dier Field for the club and hav­ing a clear vic­tory.”

Even out­side of Sol­dier Field, there was an eerie and un­usual si­lence. When the sta­dium hosts ma­jor soc­cer events, there is a pulse and sound­track around the perime­ter as fans cel­e­brate, mill around the cam­pus and tail­gate be­fore kick­off. That at­mos­phere, which was an­tic­i­pated for the spring de­but, wasn’t to be found and was re­placed by traf­fic pass­ing on Lake Shore Drive.

Though there weren’t sup­port­ers in the stands, they were heard. MLS gave teams the op­tion of cre­at­ing crowd noise, and the Fire took ad­van­tage. The replica sound­track in­cluded con­sis­tent sound, spe­cific team chants, cheer­ing when Fabian Her­bers, Al­varo Me­dran and Ig­na­cio Aliseda scored, and po­lite ap­plause when an FC Cincin­nati player re­turned to his feet af­ter tak­ing a hit.

In the sec­ond minute, Her­bers be­came the an­swer to a trivia ques­tion by scor­ing the team’s first MLS goal at Sol­dier Field since 2005. The goal was orig­i­nally ruled off­side but al­lowed af­ter a re­view, putting the Fire ahead.

The pub­lic ad­dress an­nouncer and signs on the screens cred­ited the goal to striker Robert Beric. Alas, there were no fans in the stands to be con­fused.


Fire play­ers cel­e­brate af­ter Fabian Her­bers scored the first goal in the team’s re­turn to Sol­dier Field on Tues­day against FC Cincin­nati.

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