14 key moments in the Fire's 2017
The defining moments of 2017 for the Chicago Fire
With 2017 coming to a close, it's time to look back on a year that saw plenty of change for the Fire. The Fire entered 2017 looking to rebuild after finishing last in MLS the previous two seasons. Nemanja Nikolic and Juninho had already been brought in (which is why they are not included on this list) and Sean Johnson had already been traded, but plenty more changes were to come, including a pair of midfielders who helped defined the team. Here's a look at the memorable events and moments from a rollercoaster year for the Fire.
Jan. 16: The trade for Dax McCarty
Dax McCarty had established himself as one of the best midfielders in MLS and was a fan favorite with the New York Red Bulls. When the Fire traded for him, it was a shock to the league. It meant the Red Bulls were moving in a new direction and it gave the Fire a veteran presence and a quality central midfielder, both things that had been sorely lacking. The Fire gave up $400,000 in general allocation money, which was then a league-record but has since been surpassed multiple times, and in return got one of the key players in the team’s turnaround.
March 11: Nikolic scores first Fire goal in home-opening win
The home-opening win against Real Salt Lake provided hope and optimism among Fire fans. Nemanja Nikolic, who looked a bit off in the season-opening draw in Columbus, scored a goal and the Fire’s defense held on for a shutout. Four points from the first two games made for a solid start, even if familiar problems showed up the following week.
March 18: Reality check in Atlanta
For all of the cautious optimism that the first two games of the season inspired, the next game at expansion Atlanta was a complete and total disaster. The Fire fell behind in the opening minutes via an own goal and were down a man less than 10 minutes later when Johan Kappelhof stopped a breakaway as the last defender. It finished 4-0 to Atlanta and showed the Fire needed help, which came soon after.
March 29: Fire introduce Bastian Schweinsteiger
For years the Fire had missed out on signing big names, but the drought ended when German superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger joined the Fire. Schweinsteiger arrived having won the Champions League and the World Cup among his several trophies. The signing was announced on March 21 and he was introduced to a packed press conference on March 29. The press conference was more known for one or two unusual questions, but the German's influence on the club and the city was already starting to show.
April 1: Schweinsteiger scores in his debut
Considering Schweinsteiger had less than a week of training with his new teammates and it had been more than a month since his last game (and more than two months since his last start), it wasn't clear how the German would be used in his first Fire match. Turns out he would start, play the full 90 minutes and score a goal. Schweinsteiger's header after a short corner was arguably the most iconic moment of the Fire's season. The team's issues remained in what finished a 2-2 draw, but Schweinsteiger displayed control and precision passing that was enough to convince most of his doubters wrong.
May 13: Statement win against the defending champs
Entering a meeting with the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders, the Fire had a mediocre 3-3-3 record. Mediocre was a big step up from the previous two years, but the team showed it could be capable of more with a resounding 4-1 win against the Sounders in front of a sellout crowd at Toyota Park. The Sounders weren't playing their best at the time, but it was probably the Fire's best performance to date regardless. Seattle rebounded just fine, making it back to another MLS Cup.
May 20: Schweinsteiger dazzles in DC
The Fire's summer run was starting to materialize with a rare road win in D.C. and Schweinsteiger stole the show with a late highlight that was one of the best plays of the MLS season. With the Fire up 1-0 in added time, Schweinsteiger was playing keep away from multiple defenders in the corner. He spun around twice to set up for a golden chance in front (which was blown, ruining what would have been one of the best Fire goals ever). It was another reminder that Schweinsteiger came to play. Click here for a gif of the play.
June 4: No advantage from man-advantage
The Fire entered Orlando with a four-game winning streak and the Lions held a 6-1-1 record at new Orlando City Stadium. Orlando went down to 10 men in the first half and then to nine in the second half, but the Fire couldn't get a goal. This was the first time the Fire's inability to break down a deeply packed in defense showed. The issue popped up again in New York City, when the Fire lost to 10 men. Teams were learning how to defend against the suddenly surging Fire and this theme would stick with the team the rest of the season.
June 28: Open Cup defeat on a big stage
Cincinnati has quickly gone from afterthought to prime MLS expansion candidate. A big reason why is FC Cincinnati's big, raucous crowds. The second-year USL club hosted the Fire in the Round of 16 in the U.S. Open Cup and it was quite a scene. The Fire outplayed the hosts, but couldn't get on the board and lost in penalties in front of 32,287 fans and a national TV audience. This day was more about the hosts, which made it to the semifinals of the tournament, but the Open Cup is a big part of the Fire's history and was an attainable trophy for a team that was playing its best at this time.
Aug. 19: Toronto put Fire in their place
The Fire owned the months of May and June (the only loss was that shootout defeat in Cincinnati) and had the best record in MLS at the peak. However, by the time Toronto FC came to Toyota Park, the Fire had lost four out of five and TFC was starting to look like the juggernaut that wound up winning every trophy it played for in 2017. Toronto handily beat the Fire 3-1 to show the gap between the teams and that the Fire needed to improve to make a playoff run, but things got worse first.
Aug. 26: Rock bottom against Minnesota
A week after the loss to Toronto, the Fire suffered the worst loss of the season. It wasn't the most lopsided loss, but it was the most embarrassing. Expansion Minnesota was winless on the road before beating the Fire 2-1. The Fire's skid hit six losses in seven matches and playoff seeding was coming into serious question. The Fire had been 10-0-1 at home before facing Toronto, but now the Fire had dropped two straight at Toyota Park. This loss wasn't to the league-leaders, but instead to a team already out of the playoff race.
Sept. 27: Clincher by the Bay
For all of the doom and gloom surrounding the club after the back-to-back home losses, the Fire rebounded quite well. A win in Montreal the next week got things back on track and the Fire went 2-1-1 in the four games that followed the low point against Minnesota. A 4-1 win in San Jose, featuring a dominant first half, clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2012. On top of clinching, it was one of the team's best performances of the year, young goalkeeper Richard Sanchez had a standout game and it was a rare win on the road.
Oct. 15: Nikolic plays the hero
Nikolic slumped when the Fire slumped and fell off the lead in the MLS Golden Boot race. However, he delivered in a big way against Philadelphia in the regular season home finale. With the race for playoff seeding totally up in the air with two games left, the Fire couldn't afford to drop points at home. After Nikolic scored an early goal, the Fire trailed in the second half. He finished off a penalty to tie the match. Later, he scored arguably his best goal of the season to complete his first hat trick with the Fire, which virtually sealed the Golden Boot and ended up being enough to net the Fire a home playoff game.
Oct. 25: Embarrassing end
It had been five years since the Fire made the playoffs and it wasn't worth the wait. The announced attendance was 11,647, the second-lowest total of the season, and the game was over within minutes. The Red Bulls struck with two early goals and added two more to make for a 4-0 thumping. Injuries played a part with Schweinsteiger not starting, Juninho playing at less than 100 percent, Michael de Leeuw being out with a torn ACL and Djordje Mihailovic tearing his ACL in the match. The Fire's late season struggles were all amplified in that loss, which left what was otherwise a mostly positive season with a sour finish.