CHICAGO – It’s not going to be like it was when they had their first road game of the 2020 Major League Soccer season.
That was back on March 1st of last year, when Chicago Fire FC traveled to Seattle to face the reigning league champion Sounders in front of 40,126 fans. It was just under two weeks before the season was shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, before virus restrictions were in place.
On Saturday, the Fire will have another season road opener in Atlanta at 7 PM on WGN-TV, and while it might not be what it was in Seattle, it will be closer than it has been.
That’s because Atlanta United FC has been allowed to have up to 50 percent capacity for their game at their game at Mercedes Benz Stadium. With their soccer capacity around 43,000 fans, that means about 21,000 could be in the stands for the match on Saturday.
It will be more than the Fire were allowed to have at their Soldier Field season opener last Saturday, the prospect of seeing more fans is one being embraced by veteran Johan Kappelhof.
“I think it’s great to play in front of fans, even, what was it, 8,000, at our home game, was an amazing feel,” said the defender when asked about playing in front of 50 percent capacity on Saturday. “Now there are even more fans in the stadium, so I think that’s good for every athlete, soccer player to play in front of fans.
“We’re excited about it; to show a good performance.”
Raphael Wicky hopes they are able to do that after struggling mightily away from home during the 2020 season. The Fire lost their opener at Seattle 2-1 then tied New England in Foxborough before the season was paused. When it came back in the late summer and fall, the club never reached the win column away from home, going 0-5-6 in road contests.
Both teams will come into the match looking for their first victory after ties in their openers. Chicago Fire FC had a 2-0 lead early on New England at Soldier Field before settling with a 2-2 draw, while Atlanta finished in a scorless tie.
“I think everyone feels very positive going into this game,” said defender Jonathan Bornstein after the tie. “Obviously our first test on the road. We got one point last weekend and we’ve got to make up those points, and the best place to do that is on the road.”