Chicago Fire in playoffs after inaugural season

By The Columbia Chronicle

Patrick Filler

Sports Correspondent

Thursday, Oct. 1 marked a historical day for the Chicago Fire. It was their first ever playoff game. They played the Colorado Rapids in the first of a best-of-three game series.

The Fire began their inaugural season with a goal: Make the playoffs. They did just that by finishing second in the Western Conference and third overall with a record of 20-12. This earned them the right to play the Rapids in the conference semifinals.

When the Fire won 11 games in a row from May to July, it became apparent that getting to the playoffs was a definite possibility.

The team has many people who contributed to their great season. The Fire’s coach, Bob Bradley, was the assistant coach for the US Olympic team in 1996. He has helped to turn role players and backups into contenders.

The team’s MVP and captain was Peter Nowak. The defender of the year was Lubos Kubik, who scored eight goals this year, five of them game-winners. Ante Razov, who wasn’t even signed until the day before the season began, led the team in goals, with 10. Jerzy Podbrozny, from Poland, led the team in assists, with 14. Goalkeeper Zach Thorton set the league record for the lowest goals allowed per game average with an average of 1.17 goals a game.

The Fire’s fans are many. Their home attendance average was around 20,000 per game, with many Latinos in attendance. To accommodate them, the games are announced in English as well as Spanish. It’s an energetic crowd — many fans paint their faces red and white and carry signs. They come to see a good game and they get one. Fireworks are shot off during the starting lineups and whenever the Fire scores a goal. The team’s mascot, Sparky, gets the crowd into the game and keeps them going with cartwheels and dances.

Upon entry to the game, the fans are given inflatable plastic bats (called Fire sticks), noisemakers, “spirit rods,” “happy sticks,” noise from the “Fire gods,” and “spirit conjurers,” which they beat together to create a loud popping noise. When the whole stadium beats the sticks together, the noise is quite impressive.

With the Bears having such an unsatisfying season, the NBA in a lockout, and the Cubs out of the playoffs, the Fire provide some of the only remaining professional sports excitement in Chicago.