Fire

With road trip looming, Fire hope to buck league-wide trend

With road trip looming, Fire hope to buck league-wide trend

You don't have to tell the Chicago Fire that it's tough to play on the road in Major League Soccer.

The Fire went winless on the road in 2015 and had a 1-14-2 road record last year. In the first two games away from Toyota Park this season, the Fire played to a 1-1 draw at Columbus and got thumped 4-0 in Atlanta.

With that in mind, the Fire start a three-game road trip Friday at Toronto.

"It's just an hour flight to Toronto. I see just a normal thing," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "Everyone around the world is playing and traveling. I know it's hard and I know it's a long season, but we just started the season actually and we just have to prepare well."

The Fire's recent track record on the road isn't that much of an anomaly around MLS. Road teams are 11-38-18 to start the 2017 MLS season. Both the win percentage (16.4 percent) and the points per game (0.76) are down from last year (18.8 league-wide road win percentage, 0.88 points per game in 2016). Compare that to the top four European leagues (Germany, Spain, England, Italy) where in the current season road teams have a win percentage ranging from 27 percent to 31 percent.

There are plenty of factors that go into why teams struggle away from home in MLS, some of which are not unique to the league or the sport. Obviously, there's the fan support when playing at home, something that has become more prevalent as more teams draw big crowds and have their own stadiums. There's also the travel. MLS teams are traveling bigger distances than many other leagues around the world due to the size of the U.S. and don't have regular chartered flights like other top tier American professional sports leagues. Then there's the parity within MLS. The gap between the top and bottom teams is smaller than in the top European leagues so a factor like playing at home carries more weight.

"There's lots of different things you can say," defender Michael Harrington said. "Obviously the fans give the other team a boost, but I try to look at it as just another game. It's 11 players against 11 players inside the white lines and there's no reason we can't go there and win a game, especially the way that we're playing."

[MORE FIRE: Nemanja Nikolic named MLS Player of the Week]

The Fire are coming off a three-game homestand. During that run of games they picked up two wins and a draw and moved into a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

Given the numbers and the Fire's recent road record, getting seven points out of a possible nine on the road trip, which also features games at the New York Red Bulls and the LA Galaxy, seems highly unlikely. If the Fire can get three or four points though, that would be a better than average return. If it's less than that, they would be among the majority of MLS teams, which have a good home record and a bad road record.

"I think we need to put the same identity what we make here in Toyota Park on away games," forward Nemanja Nikolic said. "We need to believe that we also can win in away games, not just here in Chicago. This is our first step. We know that the last year the Fire have some problems in away games. We want to change this."

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

After failing to qualify to play in this summer’s World Cup, the United States’ pain was alleviated on Wednesday morning after earning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

But why is this bittersweet for Chicagoans?

Even though the World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in eight years, matches will not be played in Chicago.

The city chose not to be one of the potential hosts of the world’s largest sporting event, despite using Soldier Field as a venue for the 1994 World Cup.

One of the reasons could be the low seating capacity of Chicago’s historic stadium. Soldier Field would be the second smallest spot out of any World Cup host option, seating only 61,500. The massive competition also draws enormous crowds, possibly causing logistical concerns for a highly-populated place like Chicago.

Ten out of 17 different cities in the United States will be gifted the opportunity to host 2026 World Cup games. The list includes Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) and Nashville (Nissan Stadium), which are the closest domestic locations to Chicago.

The bright side is that fans from the Midwest won’t have to travel very far to see a match. For bigtime soccer fans in the Chicago area, having the chance to attend world-class matches in United States could be exciting enough.

Out of the 80 games taking place in 2026, 60 of them will be located in the United States.

Can this bid with Mexico and Canada at least help the relevancy of U.S. Soccer in the Chicago area?

The U.S. men’s national team missed this year’s World Cup at a very unideal time, just when it seemed like the sport of soccer was gaining more and more popularity in the United States.

Plus, the United States might not even get an automatic bid to play in their own World Cup as hosts.

But becoming a member of the first trio in FIFA history to host the World Cup, coupled with the expanded 48-team field in 2026, could help the United States retain the fans they have across the nation and around Chicago.

The World Cup might not be coming to the Windy City, but Chicagoans will still have something to be excited about in 2026 with games being played right around the corner. If the U.S. can qualify for the upcoming World Cups, having the tournament in North America will be much sweeter.

Until then, the 2018 World Cup kicks off this Thursday night in Russia.

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

portillos.jpg
@JTHAZZARD

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

Portillo's has become a staple in the Chicagoland area due to its popular hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and now, its soccer jerseys.

OK, maybe one of these does not belong with the others. Regardless, Twitter user @JTHazzard created mock-up soccer jerseys mashing MLS teams and restaurants based in that team's city, and the Portillo's jersey is sweet. 

From the Portillo's logo taking center-stage to the picnic blanket pattern to the discrete Chicago Fire logo, this jersey is absolutely brilliant. The only change this writer would make is including the logo below instead.

Valspar is the current sponsor featured on the Fire's uniforms. If the team ever needs a new sponsor, though, Portillo's would be an excellent replacement.