A set of familiar faces could be returning to play at Soldier Field, but it’s not quite who we had in mind:
— The Athletic (@TheAthleticCHI) April 5, 2019
Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire franchise is working its way to get out of its lease in Bridgeview (about 12-15 miles southwest of Chicago’s downtown area, depending on where you’re driving from) and targeting a return to Soldier Field. Yes, the same Soldier Field the team played its games from 1998 to 2001 and 2003 to 2006 and currently plays host to the Chicago Bears’ home games.
Soldier Field might be better equipped to host a soccer team now than it was when it was the Fire’s first home. As we pointed out in Bullets prior to the Bears’ playoff game against the Eagles, the stadium has made the switch to New Jersey sod from Tuckahoe Turf Farms in Hammonton, N.J., which “specializes in providing grass for professional sports teams.”
You can read up on the new-look grass in a piece by the Tribune’s Patrick M. O’Connell here. Even with the new turf, I struggle to imagine how Soldier Field hosting soccer would be in the Bears’ best interests. Then again, it might not matter all that much. Remember, the Bears don’t own or operate Soldier Field – the city of Chicago does. Perhaps this would spark conversation regarding a Bears-only stadium somewhere, though I’m not sure we want to travel too far down that road just yet (even if it’s always a fun conversation to have).
It’s a tricky situation for the Fire, who could end up re-branding as part of the location change and departure from a lease that is set to expire after the 2036 MLS season. The idea of a professional soccer team playing within city limits certainly sounds appealing if all things were equal, but the Fire haven’t garnered much interest from casual fans in what is widely known as a pro sports hotbed. And why would they? The Fire have made the playoffs just twice in the last nine years and hasn’t won a major championship (i.e. MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, U.S. Open Cup) since Andrew Hauptman took over as a majority owner in 2007.
We’ll keep an eye on how this story develops, as it marginally has to do with the home of the Bears. Good luck to the Fire moving forward. It looks like they could use it.