CHICAGO – He’s been thinking about this moment since he took over as the club’s manager. Just about five months to be exact.
Raphael Wicky wanted this moment to take place for Chicago Fire FC on March 21st against the Atlanta United FC. But COVID-19 shut that down nine days earlier, when the MLS season was paused due to the spread of the virus.
But finally on Monday, Wicky got to see the sight that the club has been waiting for a long time: Soldier Field decked out in the club’s logo and colors.
Tuesday night will be Chicago Fire FC’s first game at the venue on the lakefront since moving back there in October of 2019. They’ll take on FC Cincinnati at 6:30 PM on WGN-TV as part of the MLS’ six games of their first phase of continuing their regular season.
It marks the first time since 2005 that they’ll call Soldier Field home, having spent the last 15 years at Toyota Park/SeatGeek Stadium. Wicky led a training session for the club on Monday, getting a preview of what’s the come for his team at home games in 2020.
“I’ve been in here before but standing down on the field with the things the Club has done, it looks beautiful. It’s obviously huge. The field looks good. Honestly, it’s good, so they’re all very, very excited,” said Wicky. “Obviously, we hoped to open here in a full stadium in March but now we’re happy to finally be here.”
Playing at Soldier Field again is part of a major shakeup for the franchise under new owner Joe Mansueto. Along with the change of the team’s name, colors, and logo, the move back downtown is an attempt to get closer to the fanbase while also building a new following.
Returning to Soldier Field also rekindles memories of the success of the club in the early days at the venue. All of these are on Wicky’s mind along with getting his players prepared for their second match of this stretch.
“I’ve known and felt since I arrived here how much this means to the people and to the Club and everyone is excited and was extremely excited when I arrived here and they announced the Club going back to Soldier Field, being back in downtown, closer to the people, where obviously the Club had a big history and it’s a very historic stadium,” said Wicky. “So, everyone is really excited and it means a lot to the Club and I’m aware of that and I’m very, very excited to be here.”
So are the players, even if there won’t be any fans in the stands during this stretch of three contests at Soldier Field. The team will be back on Sunday, September 6th to face the New England Revolution and then on the 12th against Columbus Crew SC.
“I think everyone is really excited. I know this was my first time here in a long time,” said midfielder and Chicago native Mauricio Pineda. “I think when we all stepped out for training today, it was a really special feeling. This place is amazing and we’re all excited to get on the field tomorrow and play a game here.”
Even if it comes five months later than everyone had hoped.