Chicago Fire FC Profile
|Major Honours||MLS Cup (1), Supporters' Shield (1), U.S. Open Cup (4)|
Chicago Fire were one of the first expansion teams in Major League Soccer, with their inaugural season being in 1998.
The club had a historic first campaign, winning two trophies, and they racked up more titles over the next eight seasons.
The franchise competed for years without having a permanent home but still managed to make deep play-off runs. Their success waned in the 2010s with just two play-off appearances in the decade and two last-place finishes.
Some of the best players and coaches in MLS history have called the Fire home. Eric Wynalda, Ante Razov, Piotr Nowak, Carlos Bocanegra, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Brian McBride, Mike Magee, DaMarcus Beasley, Tony Sanneh, Josh Wolff, Chris Rolfe and Chris Armas are among the most prominent names to wear the Fire kit, while Bob Bradley and Dave Sarachan were the first two managers.
The Fire were founded in 1997 on the 126th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, after which the team is named. They are currently owned and run by businessman Joe Mansueto, who founded Morningstar Inc.
Mansueto purchased 49% of the team in 2018 and took full control in September 2019 from Andrew Hauptman's Andell Entertainment. Andell bought the Fire in 2007 from Philip Anschutz's AEG, which at one point owned seven MLS teams.
The Bob Bradley era
The team's first manager was Bob Bradley, who had been assistant to Bruce Arena at both the University of Virginia and D.C. United. He had also been the manager of college sides at Ohio University and Princeton for 13 seasons combined.
The first Fire roster included Polish stars Piotr Nowak, Roman Kosecki and Jerzy Podbrozny, Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos, American defenders Zach Thornton and C.J. Brown, American midfielder Chris Armas, American goalie Zach Thornton and Czech defender Lubos Kubik.
Chicago started their inaugural season with two straight wins before a five-game losing streak that included a 272-minute scoring drought. They bounced back with an MLS-record 11-match winning streak as Novak was awarded the May Player of the Month.
Thornton took the starting goalkeeper job from Campos and after another five-game slump, they won four in a row in September. Thornton was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, while Kubik was the Defender of the Year and Bradley was the Coach of the Year.
The Fire placed second in the Western Conference with 18 wins in regulation and two shootout victories. In the conference semi-finals, they swept the Colorado Rapids as Kubik scored in both legs and Jesse Marsch scored the winning penalty in a first leg shootout.
In the conference final, they upset the top-seeded Los Angeles Galaxy with a 1-0 win at the Rose Bowl and a shootout win at home. Marsch scored in LA, while Nowak scored in the home game before Thornton made three saves in the shootout.
In the 1998 MLS Cup final, the expansion side were massive underdogs against two-time defending champions D.C. United as Bradley went up against his mentor, Arena. Podbrozny gave the Fire the lead in the 29th minute and Diego Gutierrez made it 2-0 just before half-time.
Thornton made eight saves to protect the lead and Novak was the MVP with two assists. The win made the Fire the first expansion team ever to win a US major league championship. Five days later, they beat Columbus Crew 2-1 in extra time to complete the double with the US Open Cup title. Podbrozny and Frank Klopas scored the goals.
The Fire were unable to repeat in 1999, but they did finish third in the conference and made the play-offs. Ante Razov led the team with 16 goals and was the MLS Player of the Month in March. In the playoffs, they lost to the Dallas Burn in a best-of-three semi-final.
Chicago won the second game 4-0 and led the deciding game 2-0 in the 83rd minute before losing 3-2. The Fire also played in the 1999 CONCACAF Champions Cup, finishing third after losing to Costa Rican side Alajuelense on penalty kicks in the semi-finals.
Chicago Fire enter new millennium
In the 2000 season, the Fire added Bulgarian striker Hristo Stoichkov and American winger DaMarcus Beasley. They won 17 games and added six draws to top the newly formed Central Division with 57 points.
Razov again led the team by scoring 22 goals, and the Fire led the whole of MLS with 67 goals in 32 games. Carlos Bocanegra was the MLS Rookie of the Year.
In the play-offs, the Fire beat New England Revolution over three games in the first round, with a 6-0 win in the finale as Razov and Stoichkov each scored twice. In the semi-finals, they beat the NY/NJ MetroStars over three games, with an 88th-minute goal by Razov to win the final encounter 3-2.
In the MLS Cup, they lost to top seed Kansas City 1-0, conceding a goal in the 11th minute. Six days later, they beat Miami Fusion 2-1 to win the US Open Cup through a strike from Stoichkov and an own goal.
In 2001, the Fire again finished first in the Central Division with 53 points from 27 games. Newcomer Eric Wynalda led the side with 11 goals and they scored 50 in total as a team.
In the first round of the play-offs, they beat Dallas Burn in the three-game series as Dema Kovalenko and Armas scored in the final game, a 2-0 win. In the semi-finals, they fell to the LA Galaxy with a 2-1 extra-time loss in the third encounter.
In 2002, the Fire had to play their home games in the western suburb of Naperville, with Soldier Field undergoing construction work. They won 11 games and finished third in the Eastern Conference, as well as making the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
They scored 43 goals in 28 MLS games, with Razov bagging 16. In the MLS Cup play-offs, they were knocked out in the first round by New England with a 2-0 loss in game three. After the season, Bradley abruptly resigned to take over his hometown MetroStars.
The Dave Sarachan era
The Fire hired US national team assistant Dave Sarachan to be their new manager for the 2003 season and he made quite the impact as the Fire finished first in the Eastern Conference, won the MLS Supporters Shield, and secured the US Open Cup.
Bocanegra was named the Defender of the Year while Sarachan was the Coach of the Year and Damani Ralph was the Rookie of the Year. On October 15, they beat Bradley's MetroStars 1-0 in the US Open Cup final as Ralph scored in the 68th minute.
Razov scored in both games in the first round of the MLS Cup play-offs as Chicago beat D.C. United 4-0 on aggregate. In the Eastern Conference finals, they beat New England 1-0 with a 101st-minute goal from Armas.
On November 23, they faced the San Jose Earthquakes in the MLS Cup final in Carson, California. The Fire fell 4-2 as Landon Donovan scored twice for the Earthquakes while Chicago got a San Jose own goal and a Beasley strike.
After the 2003 season, Nowak retired to work in the Fire front office. The 2004 season was the first in which the Fire missed the MLS Cup play-offs as they won just eight times in 30 games. They made it to the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions Cup and finished as runners-up in the US Open Cup.
The Fire bounced back in 2005 to finish third in the Eastern Conference with 15 wins. In the play-offs, they beat D.C. United 4-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals as Mario Guerrero scored twice. They fell in the Eastern Conference finals to New England 1-0 while receiving five yellow cards and one red.
In 2006, the Fire moved from downtown Soldier Field to a brand new stadium, Toyota Park, in the southwest suburb of Bridgeview.
The Fire again finished third in the Eastern Conference, but their participation in the play-offs was short-lived as they lost in the first round to New England in a penalty shootout. They did claim a fourth US Open title with a 3-1 win over LA Galaxy at Toyota Park though.
For the 2007 season, the Fire signed Mexican star Cuauhtemoc Blanco on a Designated Player contract. They started the campaign slowly though and with one win from an eight-game stretch, Sarachan was dismissed.
Juan Carlos Osorio became the new manager and the Fire rallied to reach the playoffs. In the first round, they beat D.C. United 3-2 on aggregate with two goals from Chris Rolfe. The season ended with a 1-0 loss to New England in the Eastern Conference finals.
Last years of MLS success
Osorio resigned after the 2007 season to take over the New York Red Bulls, with the Fire receiving draft picks and compensation as a result. Assistant manager Denis Hamlett was named the new manager, and Chicago native Brian McBride joined the team on a free transfer from the English Premier League in July.
Rolfe led the team with 10 goals and the Fire finished second in the East. In the play-offs, they finally beat New England after three straight seasons of being eliminated by them. In the Eastern Conference finals, they lost 2-1 to Columbus though.
In 2009, McBride led the team with seven goals and the Fire finished second in the East while also making a run in the North American SuperLiga. The Fire beat New England 2-1 in the SuperLiga semi-finals with goals from McBride and Blanco.
They hosted Mexico's UANL in the final but lost 4-3 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw. In the MLS Cup play-offs, they again beat New England but lost to Real Salt Lake on penalties in the Eastern Conference finals.
Chicago Fire's downward spiral
Hamlett was dismissed after the loss in the 2009 play-offs and Carlos de los Cobos took over. Blanco and Rolfe left the team, with Swedish midfielder Freddie Ljungberg and Mexican striker Nery Castillo added.
The Fire left the North American SuperLiga in the group stage and finished fourth in the MLS East, missing the play-offs for the first time since 2004. McBride and C.J. Brown retired at the end of the season while Ljungberg and Castillo also left.
The Fire started the 2011 season with nine winless matches and De los Cobos was fired. Dominic Oduro joined the team in a mid-season trade and scored 12 goals, but the Fire again missed the play-offs. The highlight of the season was reaching the final of the US Open Cup, which they ultimately lost.
Frank Klopas became the first former Fire player to manage the team when he took over for the 2012 season after being the interim coach for the end of the 2011 campaign.
The Fire brought Rolfe back and he scored eight goals with 12 assists in 21 games. The Fire made it back to the play-offs with 17 wins but lost to Houston 2-1 at home in the East Wild Card round.
The Fire finished 12th in MLS in 2013, 15th in 2014 and dead last in 2015 and 2016. The 2014 season yielded just six wins, while the 2015 season resulted in a franchise-low 30 points.
Klopas was fired after the 2013 season despite Mike Magee being the Fire's first-ever MLS MVP. New coach Frank Yallop brought in Designated Players David Accam, Shaun Maloney and Kennedy Igboananike, but he was let go in September 2015.
Veljko Paunovic took over for the 2016 season and helped the Fire make the play-offs in 2017 after signing World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger from Manchester United. They finished third in 2017 but lost to the Red Bulls 4-0 in the opener of the play-offs. In 2018, they fell back to 20th overall and after missing the play-offs in 2019, Paunovic was dismissed.
Raphael Wicky was hired for the 2020 season with new players Robert Beric, Ignacio Aliseda, Gaston Gimenez and Nicholas Slonina added. They announced a move back to Soldier Field before the 2020 season was delayed.
At the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, the Fire were eliminated in the group stage. When the regular season resumed, they finished 22nd with five wins from 23 games.
Despite not having an MLS team close by, the Fire have a handful of fierce rivalries.
They started a rivalry with the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) in 2001, with the Brimstone Cup being awarded to the winners each season. The cup was created by the two supporters groups, and they had the trophy crafted by the same company that makes the Academy Awards. Dallas leads the overall series, and each team has won a play-off series against the other.
After moving to the Eastern Conference, the Fire started rivalries with the New England Revolution and D.C. United. Both pairs of rivalries were born from frequent play-off clashes.
The Fire and Revolution met in the play-offs eight times in 10 seasons between 2000 and 2009, with each side advancing four times. The Fire eliminated D.C. United from the play-offs in 2003, 2005 and 2007 while also beating United in the 1998 MLS Cup final.
The Fire could be starting a new rivalry in 2023 when St. Louis City SC join MLS. The cities of St. Louis and Chicago already have fierce rivalries in baseball (Cardinals/Cubs) and hockey (Blues/Blackhawks).
Chicago's Ring of Fire honours those who have made the club successful. Piotr Nowak was the first inductee in 2003, while Frank Klopas, Lubos Kubik, Chris Armas, C.J. Brown and Ante Razov are players who have been inducted as well. Former president Peter Wilt and former manager Bob Bradley have also been honoured.
Razov holds the career record with 94 goals for the Fire. Chris Rolfe and Nemanja Nikolic are second with 55 each, while Josh Wolff scored 39 times. Wolff and Razov have both scored six US Open Cup goals, while Razov has scored 10 in MLS play-offs. Razov led the team in scoring over five different seasons.
Among the Fire's Designated Players over the years are Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Freddie Ljungberg, David Accam, Nikolic, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Robert Beric, Ignacio Aliseda and Gaston Gimenez.
Brian McBride, DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra, Josh Wolff, Tony Sanneh and Mike Magee are among the US men's national team players who have played for the Fire.