Fire

Second NYCFC match gives Fire chance to display improvement

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Second NYCFC match gives Fire chance to display improvement

There was a lot of buildup to the Chicago Fire’s season opener.

A new coach, a lot of new faces on the roster and a season opener at home.

What immediately followed was a first 45 minutes many Fire fans won’t remember fondly. The Fire trailed 3-1 at halftime and, while the second half was better, the 4-3 loss to New York City FC was not how Veljko Paunovic wanted to start his coaching tenure.

The Fire haven’t lost since, with two draws and a win, and now have a second chance against NYCFC when the Fire travel to Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

“Our honor is hurt,” Paunovic said on Monday. “We feel like we have something there that we want to solve, some payback for us is something that we are looking for this game. We want to be competitive in this game, respectful, totally respectful for a great team and a great performance New York had here. We also feel like there is something special about this game and we will prepare very well to payback.”

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Beyond the payback Paunovic speaks of, Sunday’s match is also an opportunity for the Fire to show how much the team has improved. After the March 6 loss, Paunovic and the players both spoke about it taking time for this team to jell and figure things out with so many new pieces.

Now four matches in, this trip to Yankee Stadium can be an early benchmark for a side-by-side comparison of what the Fire are better at than they were to start the season and what is still a work in progress.

“When you’re playing against the same exact team that you played three games ago it’s easy to draw examples so it will be pretty clear if we are improving because the opponent is the same,” midfielder Michael Stephens said. “We have a common thread there.”

On the other side, NYCFC hasn’t won since knocking off the Fire. Two draws and a loss, all at home, have followed the win in Toyota Park.

[MORE: Fire notes: Rumors, David Accam update, Johan Kappelhof honored]

Paunovic has an extra bit of energy in his voice when talking about the chance to get a result against the team that ruined the Fire’s home opener. He also thinks the Fire have made strides and are capable of returning from New York with a result.

“I think we improved in everything,” Paunovic said when asked about how the team compares to Week 1. “I think we improved in our style, we improved in our fitness.

“Everyone is very, very motivated. We are very excited for the next game.”

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?

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@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.