Chicago Fire FC are a professional football club currently competing in the MLS, the top division of United States soccer. Playing out of Chicago, Illinois, the Chicago Fire were named after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. 2020 represents the 23rd season of profession competition for the Chicago Fire. In that time, the Fire have won one MLS league title, along with four domestic cup titles and one MLS Supporters’ Shield trophy.
Founded October 8, 1997
Stadium Soldier Field
Head coach Raphael Wicky
League Major League Soccer
Founded as Chicago Fire Soccer Club, the Chicago Fire were one of the two first expansion teams added to the MLS in 1997. Prior to their inaugural 1997/1998 season, the Chicago Fire were aggressive in their pursuit of talent, as management saw an opportunity to take advantage of a league that lacked true competition. With just 12 teams in the MLS at the time, the MLS Cup was seen as a realistic goal for by front office reps of Chicago Fire, and player recruitment was conducted with this goal in mind. Experienced midfielder Lubos Kubik and goal scorer Piotr Nowak headlined the list of incoming transactions, with both players possessing significant experience playing in some of Europe’s top leagues. Much of the experienced talent that the Chicago Fire signed was brought in from Central or Eastern European nations, with Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria emerging as the talent hotbeds for Chicago Fire FC.
Despite the talent that had been assembled, no one expected much out of the expansion side from Chicago during the 1997/1998 MLS season. With Bob Bradley managing his first match at the professional level, the Fire were not seen as a threat. This misconception was quickly corrected, as the Chicago Fire would post a 20-12 record in their first regular season in the MLS. Keep in mind the MLS rules at the time, which saw teams partake in a 50-yard runup shootout to decide the winner of a game that was tied at the end of regulation. The Fire’s 20 wins was the third-most in the MLS that season, earning Chicago the second seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. After beating the likes of the Colorado Rapids and the Los Angeles Galaxy in a best-of-three series format, the Chicago Fire found themselves in the MLS Cup Final against two-time defending champions DC United. Chicago would dominate the final, shutting out the 2x defending champs in a 2-0 win. Seven days later, Chicago would defeat the Columbus Crew in the U.S. Open Cup, completing a Chicago Fire double in their first season of competition.
The success would trickle into the following seasons, which would see the Chicago Fire appear in the 2000 MLS Cup final. The Fire would come up short in the final, but would win their second U.S. Open Cup in the same season, making it three trophies in the first three seasons of action for the franchise. After such an impressive burst into the MLS, the Chicago Fire was beginning to gain traction in the American “soccer” scene, resulting in an influx of talent. Along with a number of the hottest young American prospects, former Barcelona striker Hristo Stoichkov was added to an already impressive Fire roster, making Chicago one of the premier sides in the MLS at the time.
Throughout the early 2000’s, the Chicago Fire were a mainstay near the top of the MLS standings. The 2003 MLS season saw a dominant Chicago Fire team finish in first place in both their conference and the entire MLS. While their MLS Cup title run was denied in the final, the Fire was able to capture yet another U.S. Cup Open trophy, marking the third successful campaign in the competition.
While the Chicago Fire would capture another U.S. Open Cup in 2006, the club experienced a fairly stale period in the years following 2004. The Chicago Fire would go (8-13-9) during the 2004 MLS season, the first season in which the Fire would finish below .500. It was also the season that would see the Fire fail to reach the playoffs, an alarming detail considering there were still only 12 teams in the MLS. Club president and GM Peter WIlt was fired by club-owning entity Anschutz Entertainment Group following the season, which was very counterproductive in hindsight. Wilt had overseen much of the early success experienced by the Chicago Fire, and his removal was protested by the Fire fans.
The Chicago Fire would hover around the .500 mark for the next few seasons, with no significant playoff runs to report. With such success achieved during the beginning of the Chicago Fire franchise, pressure was beginning to mount as the Fire failed to compete at the league’s highest levels. Besides a surprise 17 win season in 2012, there has been little to cheer for from a Chicago supporter’s point of view. This decline of the organization likely hit rock bottom after the 2016 MLS season. The Chicago Fire would go 7-17-10, recording the league’s worst record for a consecutive season, becoming the first team to ever win the “Wooden Spoon*” award in back to back seasons.
**Wooden Spoon Award is awarded to team at the bottom of league standings after season has concluded**
Needless to say, the last decade has been a tough one for the Chicago Fire organization. In the last 10 years, the Chicago Fire had been managed by five different managers. Over that span, the Fire have yielded just two playoff appearances, neither of which progressed past the knockout rounds. In response to such a sluggish decade, Chicago has put the future of the organization in the hands of manager Raphael Wicky. 42-year old Swiss-born Wikcy was appointed manager prior to the 2020 MLS season after yet another underachieving campaign in 2019 that saw the Chicago Fire go (10-12-12) en route to a playoff-less 8th place finish in the East.
The appointment of Wicky represents an invigorating addition that is expected to bring improvement immediately. While Wicky is considered to be a player’s coach who will be able to relate and get the best out of his relatively young squad, this appointment represents his biggest and most challenging job at this stage in his managerial career. Wicky has not yet finished a full season as a first-team manager of any side of top flight football, but instead has nine years of experience coaching U16 and U17 sides in Switzerland and the United States. Time and performances will tell if Wicky has the recipe for success in the MLS, with the 2020 season representing his opportunity to put his stamp on this side and this organization.
The switch of managers was far from the only major change following the 2019 season. 2020 represented a year of rebranding for Chicago Fire FC. On top of multiple front office changes, the organization also remodeled its logo, officially changed the name of the club from Chicago Fire Soccer Club to Chicago Fire FC, and announced that Soldier Field would yet again be the home of the Fire. This would end the Chicago Fire’s 13 year stint at SeatGeek Park, but the return to Soldier Field is seen as a move in the right direction for a majority of the fanbase.
Despite the hardships that have occurred over the last decade, Chicago Fire FC will always be considered one of MLS’s classic sides. Since joining the MLS in 1998, the Chicago Fire have attracted some legendary talent over the years. World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, prolific Polish goalscorer Tomasz Frankowski, and Hungerian football legend Hristo Stoichkov all played for the Chicago Fire during their careers. Ante Razov is the Chicago Fire’s all-time scoring leader with 94 goals scored in just five highly productive seasons with the club across all competitions. Razov is fifth all-time in MLS scoring, with 76 of his 114 MLS goals coming with the Chicago Fire. With six pieces of hardware in the trophy cabinet and plenty of legendary players representing the Chicago Fire over the years, there is some historical football value to this American club.