Its football season again… and in more than one sense of the word. When most Chicagoans get excited about football, they are talking about the NFL central division or watching their alma mater make a run for the Big 10 title game. But the ancient game of “football”, more commonly known as soccer, is a growing sport in this country with millions of fans nationwide and is by far the most popular sport in the world. So why put the city’s professional soccer team in Bridgeview 15 miles from city center?
Chicago is a diverse, multicultural, world-class city. It’s known for its lake-front parks, great food and numerous museums and other attractions; all accessible on our extensive public transit system. Even the sports venues that characterize our north, south, and west side neighborhoods are an integral part of the hometown feel we get when enjoying city-life in Chicago. But the Chicago Fire don’t even play within city limits… My point here is that we have 3 million people to support a city-centric team but are forced to drive out to Toyota Park to watch a live soccer game. As a city-dweller and a soccer fan, I hope to see some games played at Soldier Field in the coming seasons. If an out-of-state college football team can play there and attract thousands of visitors, I can guarantee a good showing of soccer fans at a Fire game played downtown against the LA Galaxy or a professional team from Europe. If Chicago soccer is going to grow, it needs to be played in Chicago.
My personal frustration on the topic stems from my most recent experience going to see the Fire play at Toyota Park this season. Having headed out of the city with an hour and 20 minutes budgeted to drive the 15 miles to Bridgeview, I thought we would arrive with plenty of time to walk around the stadium and stand in line for concessions before finding our seats. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The venue thoroughfare is not equipped to handle the mass of traffic that a Chicago Fire home game generates. We sat for more than 40 minutes inching south on Harlem avenue with the hundreds of other cars full of frustrated soccer fans. I watched my dashboard anxiously as the minutes of game time ticked by and my average miles per gallon shrunk from 28 to 12. I couldn’t help but think of all the other cars idling along, burning hundreds of gallons of gas as we sat in the street. By the time we arrived at the stadium, there were only 8 minutes left in the first half… 1 full price ticket for 1 full half of a soccer game. Not the best $50 I’ve ever spent.
The next time I see them play, I’ll be taking the “El” and it’ll be with a view of the city skyline from Soldier Field. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long for the powers that be to make it happen.