The Chicago Fire 15th Anniversary: My Dream, Our Shared Experience
On The Fire’s Roberto Diaz is here to bring you a meaningful reflection on time well spent…
Well my fellow Fire fans, as for many of you, two of my days last week were like a dream come true. From a distance, formally honoring players that taught us the meaning of Tradition, Honor, and Passion is an enjoyable, yet somewhat impersonal experience. But to have an opportunity to be on the pitch and in the same room with Chicago Fire greats is something altogether different and extraordinary. In a word, my time at the alumni match and 15th Anniversary party last week was…LEGENDARY!
My 36 hours of Chicago Fire bliss began last Sunday afternoon. The Toyota Park turf field was the scene on a windy and cool fall day, where former Fire men laced up their boots and teamed up with a couple of original Section 8’ers to take on Wisla Chicago in a friendly match. In attendance and playing were Peter Novak, Lubos Kubic, Ante Razov, Diego Gutierrez, Frank Klopas, and none other than international great Hristo Stoitchkov.
I learned two important things that afternoon. First, touch, class, and finesse are never lost. These guys can still ball! Second, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Fire Soccer Club mean a lot to Mr. Stoitchkov. He spent his best years playing for Barcelona (yes, that Barcelona), but instead of watching the all-important el Clásico vs. Real Madrid that day, Hristo opted to represent the Fire one more time on the pitch with his friends and former teammates.
Despite its old-timers, the match was simply magical. The touches, the moves, and the crosses were a sight to behold. Their play was pin-point, purposeful, and a reminder of how truly great these guys were and are. Despite his girth, Hristo Stoitchkov took us back to 2000 with a first half brace, while Ante Razov added a third goal before the break. Just as in ’98, Peter Novak and Frank Klopas directed play in the midfield, while Lubos and Diego held down the defense.
However, Wisla made a valiant comeback in the second-half to tie at three, which sent the match to penalty kicks and provided an old-school shootout treat for the loyal fans in attendance! During the penalty kicks the Fire legends once again showed their class and quality, converted every shot, and sealed the victory. And although I was thrilled to say a brief hello and wish my heroes well after the game, the next day would bring altogether more.
As you probably know, last Monday night more than 400 people, including players, supporters, and friends of the Chicago Fire gathered at the Chicago History Museum to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of our soccer club. Good music, great food and drink, and even greater company were all on hand. Beautiful exhibits with jerseys from the past, Fire trophies, and Section 8 scarves from throughout the years were on display for all to appreciate.
The current coaching staff was in attendance along with most of the players, and many past players and coaches were on hand as well. Notable Fire alums in attendance included: Ante Razov, Peter Novak, Hristo Stoitchkov, Lubos Kubic, Diego Gutierrez, Chris Armas, Frank Klopas, Jesse Marsch, Andy Herron, Kelly Gray, Justin Mapp, Dasan Robinson, Brian McBride, Zach Thornton, Dennis Hamlett, and many others.
To be in the same room as these guys was pretty exciting, but to have the opportunity to converse with each of them was simply amazing. And the highlight of the evening was without a doubt the speeches. For me personally, the moment that resonates most is former GM Peter Wilt reading Section 8’er Brandon Kitchens’s letter he wrote for the team and fans before he passed away.
Peter Wilt then added: “The past has already been written. The future has yet to be determined. On behalf of Brandon and everyone that has helped write the Fire’s past, we ask you in your own way, to write a future full of tradition, honor, and passion.”
In his speech, head coach Frank Klopas had this to say: “This group of guys (the ’98 MLS Cup squad) was special, and I see many similarities between them and the guys we have right now. We aspire to great things and that means bringing another championship back to this great city.”
And finally, I must mention Ring of Fire member Chris Armas, who looked over to his former teammates on the right side of the room, then back to the current players on the left and said, “All of us gathered here are behind you. Go and win a championship.”
Last Monday night was an event fit to honor not only the legends who’ve worn the Chicago Fire jersey, but to all of the the folks who one way or another have given, and continue to give, a part of themselves and their precious time to grow our club. And more than a week later, I’m still a bit star-struck while those 36 hours remain a dream.
Although I write, words can’t express how grateful I am to have been able to share memories with great players and great fans; and perhaps most importantly, to be able to love and support such a wonderful club.
Congratulations on turning fifteen Chicago Fire. Here’s to at least another fifteen more years of trophies, memories, Tradition, Honor, and Passion!
– Roberto Diaz, aka RDIII, is On The Fire’s roving reporter and fan extraordinaire. Tweet Roberto @nu12no