Fire

Hinsdale native Grant Lillard getting feet wet with Fire

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Chicago Fire

Hinsdale native Grant Lillard getting feet wet with Fire

The Fire have a few rookies in position to be contributors to the team early on in 2018, but one of them has a head start on his fellow newcomers to the team.

Grant Lillard signed a homegrown contract with the team on Jan. 10, but as an academy product the start of preseason training this week wasn’t his first exposure to the first team. Lillard got to train with the Fire last summer in between his junior and senior seasons at Indiana.

“It definitely helps being a little acquainted with everyone coming over this summer,” Lillard said. “The Fire were really generous to give me an opportunity to come in and play for a month. I got to get to know a few guys through that. There are a lot of new faces and it’s nice playing with some old guys and then seeing some new guys, too. But it definitely helps you feel more acclimated and it’s easier to just play my own game and focus on what I need to do.”

Lillard stands out among the group, but that’s mostly because of his size. At 6-foot-4, Lillard is an imposing figure. He is also a left-footed player, which could help him win the left center back spot next to Johan Kappelhof on the Fire’s back line.

As the roster currently stands, he will be up against Jonathan Campbell and Christian Dean for that spot. Lillard wouldn’t admit to any competition or anything beyond getting settled in the professional game.

“It’s been a lot of fun just getting to know the guys, getting used to how everyone is playing, seeing some movements,” Lillard said. “Just all the basic stuff, kind of getting my feet on the ground and seeing which way is what, but it’s been fun. I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time and just to be able to get out and play with the guys has been a lot of fun.”

Lillard, a Hinsdale native who comes to the Fire after a four-year career at Indiana in which he was an All-American, said the coaching staff hasn’t spoken to him about anything specific yet. The goal is just to get him to play his game and show he belongs.

“Obviously the level is higher, but that’s the fun part, coming and playing with all the guys that the Fire have on this team,” he said. “It’s more competitive, the pace is faster. It’s the next level of soccer, professional football and it’s fun.”

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.