A reminder for MLS all-stars in Chicago
It would be overly dramatic to say the Major League Soccer all-stars arriving Sunday are coming to save soccer in Chicago.
The Chicago soccer community has always been strong, even while the pro game went dormant for several years.
The all-stars are coming to help the Chicago Fire and the league revive interest in professional soccer here. Real Madrid, which arrives Monday, also will play an important role. There is hope this is the beginning of a soccer renaissance in Chicago.
The all-stars and Real Madrid are not only attracting national soccer media to town, they already are forcing some local media outlets to sit up and take notice of Wednesday's MLS All-Star Game (8 p.m., FS1) at Soldier Field and events leading up to it, and by extension the host Fire. For too long it's been too easy for media here and elsewhere to ignore the Fire.
The Fire, finally, is doing its part on the field with its dramatic reversal of fortunes. Going from the worst team in MLS the last two seasons -- and without a playoff victory since the electric 2009 season -- to one of the best teams in the league this year, the Fire is reminding soccer people that this city has had a pro team for 20 years now.
The Fire's existence was easy to overlook the last few years. Bad teams, bad games and public relations blunders resulted in some of the league's lowest attendances figures. The Fire was a club that didn't want to acknowledge that in a league of haves and have-nots, it was a big-city have-not.
Now the Fire is becoming a little more of a "have." Signing a long overdue soccer superstar like German superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger is helping the Fire attract attention. Three sellouts of 20,000-seat Toyota Park in 10 home games illustrate that point (and remind everyone that the stadium itself, while far from the best in the league, was a scapegoat for the club's bigger issues).
But there is more work to be done.
That's where this week comes in. MLS needs a vibrant presence in the nation's third-largest market (and in the Midwest as a whole) and is doing what it can to assist by bringing this event to Chicago.
Bringing in the European champion can't help but attract soccer fans who love watching the best in the world but resist the domestic league. Maybe, the league hopes, those fans will finally realize the game here at home isn't too bad and getting better all the time.
Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos -- sorry, star of stars Cristiano Ronaldo isn't making the trip -- Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema are the kind of players anyone can enjoy watching. MLS hopes they Chicagoans notice the Fire's Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty and Johan Kappelhof too. Or fellow MLS all-stars like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Miguel Almiron, Giovani dos Santos and Diego Valeri.
So welcome to Chicago, folks. We're glad you're here. Thanks for pitching in.