I woke up this morning to the news that the Chicago Fire will be playing Manchester United at Soldier Field on July 23rd. Not only is this great news for soccer in the United States, but it is great news for the city of Chicago. But if anyone is a big winner in this situation, it is the Chicago Fire. Chicago has hosted plenty of prolific friendlies in the past. In 2004 Soldier Field was the setting of a Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich match and, most recently, the Fire hosted seven-time European Champions AC Milan at Toyota Park. The Fire also played AC Milan in 2005.
So why is this such a big deal? For starters, Manchester United is the biggest club in the world and attracts more fans than any other club, including the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Playing United as part of their pre-season tour of the USA will help the Fire – as well as the rest of the MLS – gain more of the attention it desperately craves. The Red Devils are also scheduled to play the New England Revolution in Foxborough and the MLS All-Stars in New York, before a high profile match against FC Barcelona in D.C.
It will be an exciting time for soccer in the US. Following the popularity of the World Cup last summer, the sport needed something to grab American’s attentions once again this summer and they have found it. There is no doubting that every match will be a sell-out, including the one at Soldier Field. Just as importantly, the Fire’s match against the Premier League leaders will garner excitement across Chicago and force people to stand up and take notice of the sport.
As for the Fire, they will gain invaluable experience by playing against some of the world’s best players. Imagine the lessons 22-year old Jalil Anibaba will learn by having to mark Wayne Rooney or Dimitar Berbatov, or even the speedy ‘Chicharito’. And what about Sean Johnson? At the age of 21, did he ever think he would be trying to keep out some of the world’s best strikers? The entire Fire team will benefit from playing a side as talented as United, and they will also benefit from being involved in such a high-profile match.
Remember, this is a new, young squad. I can guarantee you they are licking their lips in excitement at the prospect of testing themselves against some of the world’s best players. As a fan, I know I am already thrilled at simply being able to see Manchester United play my beloved Fire.