Analysis

Resurgent Fire Giving Fans of Old and New Plenty to Cheer for this Season

The Chicago Fire are currently sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 18 points, six of those earned in their last two matches, a 4-1 victory over the defending MLS Champion Seattle Sounders and the Colorado Rapids. The fire are in position to return to the MLS playoffs this fall, and boast the league’s most prolific scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, giving the Fire fan-base plenty to be excited about this summer.

In 2016 the Fire finished with a record of 7-17-10, good for only 31 points and a last place finish in the Eastern Conference standings.  The 2015 season was another 10th place finish in the Eastern Conference, in fact the Fire haven’t finished higher than the 4th seed since 2009 when they fell to Real Salt Lake in the Eastern Conference Finals after finishing in the second seed in the Eastern Conference that season. The Fire have not made a playoff appearance since the 2012 season where they suffered an early exit at the hands of the Houston Dynamo in the knockout round.

Naturally, the Men in Red have struggled mightily with attendance in recent seasons due to their lackluster performances on the field. In 2016 the Fire ranked 19th in attendance with an average of 15,602 fans per game, just 608 fans in the seats more than FC Dallas, who finished dead last in attendance per game.

The early success this season for the Fire has done wonders for driving fans both new and old into the seats at suburban Toyota Park, evident this past weekend when the Fire packed the house for their statement victory over Seattle. After the game this past weekend our Chicago Fire beat writer David Zuccarelli spoke with Drew Conner who had this to say about the crowd presence on Saturday night,

“It was an awesome night, an awesome crowd. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a crowd like that.”

The overall feeling from Fire fans on social media is that the Fire are serious contenders, and why not? They’re playing better than they have in years, now more than halfway to matching their point total from the entire 2016 season. The addition of Bastian Schweinsteiger  gave the Fire a big name veteran with plenty of experience in high-pressure matches. More than anything, Schweinsteiger is determined to play a role in making the Chicago Fire and the MLS more relevant, evident by his interview with Laurence Holmes this week on WSCR-670AM.

As I mentioned before, Nemanja Nikolic is leading the MLS in scoring with 10 goals this season, two more than the next best scorer, Erick Torres of the Houston Dynamo. The emergence of homegrown talent Drew Connor, the budding chemistry between the likes of Schweinsteiger, Accam, McCarty and Nikolic is creating scoring opportunities and excitement alike.

It just so happens that the Fire and soccer in general has never been one of my favorite sports to watch or cover, but in my duties as Managing Editor I have been more active in keeping up with the club since we introduced our Chicago Fire coverage here at The Loop Sports a couple of months back, and through reading the excellent work of our Fire beat writer David Zuccarelli and following along with the club’s newfound success this season, I found myself more entertained during Wednesday evening’s match with the Colorado Rapids, than I have ever been with a soccer match before.

Point being, this team has something special brewing, the fans feel it, and the team feels it. Fire Head Coach Velijko Paunovic highlighted the teams growth and their expectations in his post game presser after Saturday night’s win over the Sounders.

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The team is growing indeed, and putting the rest of the Eastern Conference on notice early-on in 2017. Chicago Fire fans have plenty of reason to be excited, both new and old.

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