It was a sunny October day on Navy Pier in Chicago in 1997 when then-general manager Peter Wilt announced the nickname of the club that would bring professional soccer back to Chicago.
The Fire and its supporters groups will spend the next week celebrating the past 15 years and that big day. The celebration begins with Wednesday night's match at Toyota Park against the Philadelphia Union and continues through Monday's party at the Chicago History Museum hosted by Section 8 Chicago and other groups. Many past Fire players will return to Chicago for the celebration, joining current players.
"I'm very proud," said defender Gonzalo Segares, drafted by the Fire in 2005. "It's a club with a lot of history in MLS. It's already 15 years and it keeps growing a lot. ... Having so many players coming back, you're just proud to be a part of it."
Former Fire players Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Peter Nowak and Chris Armas will be honored at halftime of Wednesday's match.
"It's a special time," added captain Logan Pause, who's been with the club since being drafted in 2003. "It is really fantastic to see our own supporters get behind this and plan this event. I think it's special. I think from what I hear there's a lot of former players coming back.
"It's one of those moments that you're able to look and see, man, look at the rich tradition of soccer in this city and with this club. It's a blessing and an honor to have represented this club for so long, and I'm happy to be a part of this celebration."
Current Fire coach Frank Klopas was with the Kansas City Wizards back then, but he came back to his hometown for the Fire's inaugural season in 1998, when the Fire won both MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup. It was the third season of operation for Major League Soccer, coming on the heels of the 1994 World Cup played in the United States.
"Obviously, it's an important day, just a historic day," said Klopas, who also played for the Sting in the old North American Soccer League before it folded. "I guess for everyone it's something different.
"It's a day that we have to honor and remember, and obviously for me it was different not having professional soccer in the city here for many years, being disappointed that we didn't have a franchise in the inaugural season in '96 with the league was disappointing. ...
"For me it was fantastic just to have even though I wasn't a part of it at that moment because I was in Kansas City. It was just important because I grew up here and I know what soccer means in the city and the community. The history of soccer here is huge."
Nobody seems worried that the activities will distract the players from what they need to do on the field as they work to clinch a spot and a good seed in the playoffs.
"The players are focused," Klopas said. "We had a good meeting today. Everybody knows what's at stake and how important the next game is, the next games."
"I don't think we're caught up in it," Pause added. "It's a great event, it's great for the club, the history and tradition of the club, but listen. Wednesday is Wednesday, Saturday is Saturday (a nationally televised match at New York), and once we get over that we'll be able to enjoy a couple of days with our former teammates and fans."
After picking up a second yellow card in Friday's match at Sporting Kansas City, Segares will be suspended for Wednesday's match, the league's way of giving him more time to enjoy the 15th anniversary celebration.
"For sure, I get to watch. I'll definitely say hi to some of the players coming in," Segares said.
Tickets to Monday's anniversary celebration are available at fireanniversary.com. Tickets to Wednesday's game, as with any game, are available at chicago-fire.com.
The Berry campaign:
The Fire communications department is pushing central defender Austin Berry for MLS rookie of the year and is starting a campaign based around a product of jersey sponsor Quaker. The Fire put Berry's photo on a mock box of Life cereal, along with previous defenders to win the award and previous Fire winners. The boxes are being sent to about 120 media members nationally to push Berry's candidacy.
On Twitter the Fire is using #Berry4ROY to campaign for Berry, who has 3 goals in addition to his strong defensive play.
"Brendan did a great job with it and it looks good," Berry said about communications director Brendan Hannan's creation. "I can't speak enough on it. It's pretty cool. I plan to send some to my family."
Flaco gets the call:
Fire midfielder Alvaro "Flaco" Fernandez has been called up by the Uruguayan national team for World Cup qualifying matches Oct. 12 against Argentina and Oct. 16 against Bolivia. He is not expected to miss any Fire games because the club is taking a brief break in its MLS schedule for the international matches.
Fernandez, 26, played appeared in four matches during the 2010 World Cup.
Klopas is not worried about losing Fernandez for training during a key stretch of the season.
"He's going to be somewhere where he's going to get the international level," Klopas said. "Obviously, it's a whole different level above what we're playing right here, so the speed of play and all that stuff should help him."
Change at the top:
Klopas picked up a red card at the end of Friday's match at Sporting Kansas City, so assistant coaches Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich will guide the team in his absence Wednesday. It shouldn't hurt the team, Klopas said.
"At this point in the season, we're all experienced, the team knows what to expect," Klopas said. "I have a great staff. It's about the preparation that we do here (at training), obviously. But the guys know what's at stake. I don't think they're going to miss anything."
Midfielder Pavel Pardo did not train with his teammates again Monday as he recovers from a calf injury. It's unlikely he will play in either game this week.
"He's not out here training, so it'll be difficult for him to be available if he's not training," said Klopas said, adding the team will be cautious with Pardo to avoid another setback. "That's the first step, to get him on the field and training with the team and see where he is."
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