Major League Soccer officially announced the 2017 Major League Soccer All-Star Game will be at Soldier Field on Tuesday.
The press conference inside the stadium had all the typical pillars of the hype for a big event. MLS commissioner Don Garber, Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel all spoke. Even Target's mascot dog Bullseye was there.
MLS always makes a big deal out of the All-Star Game and this was no exception. As Garber said to reporters after the press conference concluded, this is a way to give the Fire and the city of Chicago a showcase MLS event.
"We're always trying to think of ways that we can do things to create excitement in all of our markets," Garber said. "I think this game is part of a way to achieve some celebration for this club and if there are other things we can do we'll work with the Fire to be able to do that."
The game will take place Aug. 2, but one thing missing from the day was that the opponent was not announced. The format pitting the MLS All-Stars against a foreign club remains, but the league could not announce the opponent.
Garber was only able to say that the opponent will be announced soon and is a "top five" club in the world. Real Madrid and Barcelona have been the subject of speculation and reports so far.
"We're looking for a really big team," Garber said. "We'll announce that team soon. We thought it was a great opportunity to sort of celebrate the Fire's 20th anniversary, a way to bring some excitement to this city with our sport, somewhat like what we did with our Copa America (semifinal)."
Garber added that the opponent will "probably not" be announced within a week, but didn't give any more details. Whatever the opponent, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic will manage the MLS All-Stars.
During the press conference, Garber told a story of how Emanuel urged Garber to bring the All-Star Game to Soldier Field during a rain delay when Chile took on Colombia in a Copa America semifinal last July. Fire Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla said the club has been working since last summer to get the All-Star Game and took representatives of the Chicago Sports Commission to San Jose for last year's All-Star Game to "get a sense of the event."
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As for why the event will be in Soldier Field and not the Fire's home of Toyota Park, Garber said that came down to the opponent and the size of the venues. Soldier Field has more than three times the capacity of Toyota Park.
"You'll see when we announce the team that it would make no sense for anybody to have an international opponent in a stadium that has (20,000) seats," Garber said.
Garber also added that the last time the MLS had the All-Star Game outside an MLS venue was when Manchester United played at Reliant Stadium, now called NRG Stadium, in 2010. While Man. U. would fit as a "top five" club in the world in terms of size and fan draw, the Houston Dynamo's BBVA Compass Stadium was not yet built. Toyota Park did host the 2006 MLS All-Star Game shortly after it was built.
"I think our goal was to announce the club, our opponent and the game at the same time," Garber said. "Timing got the best of us so we had to announce this game and the club at a later date. I think when you hear who the club will be you'll understand it's not a game we could have played in Toyota Park."
Besides bringing an event that sounds like it will pack Soldier Field, the MLS All-Star Game and the other events and activities that will be come to Chicagoland, also still to be announced, in the week leading up to the game, this will also put an extra spotlight on the Fire. After back-to-back years finishing last in MLS, the Fire won't want to have another disappointing year on the field when all the extra attention will come to the club and the league in Chicago as a result of the All-Star Game.
"We need to deliver a fantastic product, day in, day out, regardless of an all-star game," Khosla said. "Yes, there will be a lot more spotlight on the Fire, we know that, but we're embracing it and we're excited about it."